Jim Kirkpatrick is best known as the lead guitarist of FM — one of the flag bearers for British melodic rock. A slot he has adeptly filled since 2008 with his terrific guitar work and delicious hooks, he’s also found space for a third solo ramble with the Americana-themed Dead Man Walking.
The follow-up to his critically-acclaimed 2020 album, Ballad Of A Prodigal Son, Kirkpatrick takes a stylistic turn, while still incorporating the tasty elements of blues and rock that led Life Music Media to label its predecessor “The most important British Blues-Rock album of recent years.”
Kirkpatrick takes us to the “Promised Land” on the gospel-led opener with its capella vocal harmonies and impassioned lyrics. You can imagine chain gangs and cotton picks singing this in union against the punishing labor and sticky heat of the deep South.
The title track, “Dead Man Walking,” was written in collaboration with rock ‘n’ roll legend Bernie Marsden. Marsden is known for writing catching choruses, and here he goes again on this groovy southern blues rocker. There’s real bite and venom here (not too dissimilar to a white snake), with FM’s Jem Davis on keys adding extra might to a song released as a single two years ago.
“Razor’s Edge” spoils the listener rotten with a healthy dose of Hammond organ and not one but two glorious soulful Kirkpatrick solos. Announcing himself as more than just an accomplished guitarist from Cheshire, England, that has seen him work and tour with many other big hitters, Kirkpatrick sharpens up his vocals, notably on the change in tempo for the hard-driven chorus. If that isn’t enough, his DNA is even blotted on the bassline.
This happy Cheshire cat has an adrenaline rush on the powerful “Life On The Run,” with its chunky riff and sporadic pentatonic guitar bursts. “The Journey Home” may be slow, but is a delicate marvel. It builds in volume to a stirring chorus and some gentle fretwork, demonstrating Kirkpatrick’s willingness to reach new musical ground.
Single “Union Train” rattled down the tracks in March and takes us back out west toe-tapping, while the heavy blues of “Road of Bones” is an energetic workout of pure blues rhythms and searing licks, topped off by a classy solo. Such is its quality, it wouldn’t be out of place on one of Joe Bonamassa’s recent LPs.
Culminating in the good-time and up-tempo classic blues-rock blast of “Hold On” and a spirited rendition of Rory Gallagher’s “I Fall Apart” that’s backed by a vast orchestral score, it ends with a spine-tingling solo that matches the depth, emotional intensity, and richness of the strings.
The Ballad Of A Prodigal Son record blew many blues-rock fans away (myself included), and this 10-track tour-de-force only serves to confirm his status as of the UK’s most unsung guitar heroes. The sublime guitar playing is still in abundance, but Dead Man Walking sees Kirkpatrick sounding extremely alive and well in his quest to add an extra dimension to his refreshing brand of blues-rock.
The Review: 8.5/10
Can’t Miss Tracks
– Dead Man Walking
– Road of Bones
– I Fall Apart
The Big Hit
– Road of Bones