The fun puzzle of singer/guitarist Kirk Fletcher’s My Blues Pathways is figuring out which is more soulful and emotive: his singing or his guitar playing. Because both are striking on this impressive collection of 10 soul-blues tracks, which has the fire of blues rock and the warmth of rhythm and blues.
Fletcher has spent times in bands, with the Fabulous Thunderbirds, and as a sideman, for Joe Bonamassa, and while he has a low-key energy, he authoritatively fronts his solo album, placing himself in the middle of every track, vocally and with his guitar playing. Fletcher has his own sound, but he pulls from the greats. His vocals have the depth of Muddy Waters. His guitar playing has B.B. King’s simplicity and a more controlled version of Albert King’s bends. His soul-influenced songs don’t sound especially like Robert Cray, but it’s tough to wade into soul blues without drawing the comparison. And it’s one Fletcher doesn’t try to evade, as he co-wrote two songs with Richard Cousins, Cray’s bass player.
“No Place to Go” is one of those co-writes, a slow groove lifted by horn and guitar stabs. The song is sparse, often just a drum beat and Fletcher’s voice, smoky and limber. And if the track were only this rickety soul beat paired with Fletcher’s vocals, you’d be pretty happy. But then, he brings in his guitar, which is bend after bend, exciting-yet-disciplined, and also mimicking the character of the human voice. It’s thoughtful and old school, driving home the beauty of the song. “The Struggle for Grace” is a straight-forward blues, reminiscent of B.B. King’s “The Thrill is Gone,” but with Fletcher’s own take. That includes his vocals, which are much less preacher-from-the-pulpit and more cool world-worn uncle. His guitar is the same dynamic, grabbing your attention not with fire and brimstone, but with interesting things to say.
Fletcher also puts his stamp on covers. He gives Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Fattening Frogs For Snakes” a slower groove and more of a Waters’-style vocal delivery. There’s no harmonica, but Fletcher’s guitar taps into classic blues lines, with some modern finesse thrown in to remind the listener of the year. Also helping is a slight update to the lyrics, which includes the all-too-relatable “It’s 2020 / Now I’ve got to correct all of my mistakes.”
There’s often an informal lower standard for blues guitarist singers, where if they can carry a tune and not distract you from the music, everyone takes the album as a big win. Fletcher’s voice can compete with anyone, though, an enjoyable mix of bass and melody. And his guitar playing is equally evocative, providing a lift to each song, but never distracting from it. Fletcher’s backed a lot of people over the years so it’s nice to see him working for himself again, showing off a special skill-set.
The Review: 9/10
Can’t Miss Tracks
– No Place to Go
– Rather Fight Than Switch
– Fattening Frogs For Snakes
– The Struggle for Grace
The Big Hit
– The Struggle for Grace