My Blues Pathway

Kirk Fletcher

Cleopatra Blues, 2020

http://kirkfletcherband.com

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 05/18/2022

My Blues Pathway feels like exactly the right title for the latest release from Los Angeles born-and-raised blues guitarist Kirk Fletcher, who brings more than two decades of honing his chops to bear on a set that feels like it strikes just the right balance between original tunes (six) and covers of past and present peers (four). The guitar prodigy—already a veteran of touring and gigs with the likes of Lynwood Slim, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Charlie Musselwhite and Joe Bonamassa—both honors his elders and seeks out his own path forward on his fifth studio album.

Fletcher, whose clean guitar tone and expressive playing immediately reminds of artists like Robert Cray and Jimmie Vaughan, benefits here from the solid backing of Travis Carlton (bass), Lemar Carter and David Kida (drums), Jeff Babko (keys), Joe Sublett (sax), and Mark Pender (trumpet). Mixing and matching the players to maximum effect, Fletcher frames a set that embraces traditional blues forms while offering nods to gospel, soul, funk and rock along the way—a distinct pathway that is all Fletcher’s own.

“Ain’t No Cure For The Downhearted” gets things going with a funk-inflected, clavinet-enhanced groove and Fletcher’s tasteful soloing. The album’s single “No Place To Go” follows, a smoldering soulful mid-tempo number whose sweet horn accents underscore a message about keeping your priorities straight (“No one wants to be alone / You built your house but not a home”). Third cut “Love Is More Than A Word” is where it feels like Fletcher takes things to the next level, a passionate, thoughtful gospel-blues that he sings with total conviction, before erupting in the fourth minute into an extended, gorgeous solo. Yeah—that’s the stuff.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

“Struggle for Grace” Is another winner, a deliberate, purposeful mid-tempo tune with dynamic horns. The first cover shows up in the five slot, as Fletcher offers a strutting, sassy take on AC Reed’s “I’d Rather Fight Than Switch” (naturally following the boast about his “sweet guitar tone” with a demonstration of same). The Fletcher original “Heart’s So Heavy” is a slow, traditionalist blues lit up by Fletcher’s nimble runs as he testifies: “Well I done lost my lover / and I lost my very best friend.”

Next up, he gives a nod to Sonny Boy Williamson with a terrific over of “Fattening Frogs For Snakes,” a genuine Delta blues that sums up the entire genre in a single line: “Took me a long time / to find out my mistakes.” In the home stretch, Fletcher covers contemporary Chris Cain’s “Place In This World,” soloing nicely over Babko’s Hammond organ, before taking an break from vocals for the chugging, winking instrumental roadhouse blues “D Is For Denny.”

To close things out, Fletcher enlists his old boss Charlie Musselwhite for a dueting acoustic guitar-and-harmonica cover of the Delta classic “Life Gave Me A Dirty Deal” by Weldon “Juke Boy” Bonner. The back porch swamp-blues atmosphere only underscores the heartache the lyric lays down: “My baby don’t love me no more / she got herself another man / I’m smiling like I’m happy / but you don’t know how I feel.”

As a former sideman, Fletcher’s strength has always been his sharp playing; his vocals are less consistently engaging. On tunes like “Love Is More Than A Word” and the closing “Dirty Deal,” he sings with real passion; elsewhere his vocals can sometimes feel like a work in progress. The mix only enhances this impression; the guitars are consistently out front where they should be, but his vocals often feel somewhat low in the mix. Whatever the reason, it leaves the impression on this self-produced album that playing guitar remains Fletcher’s primary focus.

And why wouldn’t it be? Fletcher is a tremendous guitar player with an instinctive feel for the blues and My Blues Pathway ensures that his journey will continue.

Rating: B

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