BILL KIRCHEN "Hammer of the Honky-Tonk Gods"


THE FOLKS WHO MAKE Fender Telecasters ought to stop what they're doing and cut Bill Kirchen a fat check. After all, could the legendary brand ask for a better promotional anthem than "Hammer of the Honky-Tonk Gods," the opening and title track of Kirchen's new release? Not likely.

Ringing with trademark twang and low-string rumble, Kirchen's song cleverly celebrates the instrument and its inventor, Leo Fender -- "Well, he put six strings on a maple stick / stuck it on a slab of ash" -- as well as a procession of Tele-titans, from Luther Perkins and James Burton to Steve Cropper, Albert Collins and Bruce Springsteen. "Born at the junction of form and function," touts Kirchen, like the career-long Tele-devotee he is.

You needn't share Kirchen's guitar enthusiasms to appreciate what he's up to on this winning disc, though it certainly wouldn't hurt when he wryly evokes honky-tonk traditions on the self-penned "Get a Little Goner" (think Buck Owens and John Prine collaborating on a kiss-off lyric) or when he goes acoustic while indulging in some hip, southwest swing on "One More Day." There are plenty of other entertaining diversions, including Kirchen's own "Working Man," with its blues/gospel/doo-wop textures. A slow-stroll version of "Devil With the Blue Dress" and the closing rendition of Arthur Alexander's poignantly resigned ballad "If It's Really Got to Be This Way" make for a pair of enjoyable covers.

All the while Kirchen's session mates, most notably bassist and background vocalist Nick Lowe, contribute to the genial spirit and soulful moods. The result is an album likely to fuel Kirchen's "dieselbilly" concerts for years to come.

-- Mike JoyceAppearing Saturday at the Birchmere and Sunday at Rams Head Tavern in Annapolis.