It’s safe to say that Bill Kirchen is not a household name, nor even one that’s well known in most bars, even those with a good jukebox. But Kirchen has a terrific musical pedigree and his new album, Word to the Wise, features a supporting cast of musicians that certainly ARE known to most music fans: Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, Paul Carrack, Dan Hicks, and Maria Muldaur. And if you heard some of the songs he’s played guitar on over the years, you would certainly recognize the music.
Kirchen was a longtime ember of Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen, where he handled guitar chores for several decades. If you haven’t heard any of those great Commander Cody albums from the 1970s, you’re missing out on some wonderfully exuberant Texas country-rock. Remember “Hot Rod Lincoln”? Yep, that was them. The band released over a dozen albums, and their live albums in particular — Live from Deep in the Heart of Texas and We’ve Got a Live One Here — are swash-buckling, joyous musical rides that will have you bouncing around the living room, knocking over furniture and small farm animals in the process.
Fast forward to 2010, when Word to the Wise was released; it sounds like Kirchen hasn’t missed a lick. His fans know that Kirchen is quite an accomplished guitar player, but the real surprise here is how strong his songs are too. Word to the Wise is chockablock with tasty tunes — both originals by Kirchen (“Bump Wood”, “Arkansas Diamond”, “Valley of the Moon”) and cover versions (Merle Haggard’s “Shelly’s Winter Love” and Roger Miller’s “Husbands and Wives.”) — that are accentuated by the ace musicians onboard, and of course Kirchen himself. Throw in those guest artists (including Chris O’Connell from Asleep at the Wheel, Norton Buffalo, and even Commander Cody) amidst a party atmosphere, and a good time is guaranteed. In addition to this latest release, Kirchen has recorded seven other solo albums, including Hot Rod Lincoln Live and the trucker-friendly The King of Dieselbilly. Obviously, even after leaving Commander Cody, Kirchen has kept a busy recording and touring schedule.