Written by: Terry Taylor
Release Date: 21st April 2023
Often mentioned in the same breath as Joe Bonamassa, Jim Kirkpatrick is a gifted and well-respected rock and blues guitarist, songwriter and vocalist. Best known as the lead guitarist of British melodic rock band FM and for his work alongside some of the big names in rock like Bernie Marsden (Whitesnake), John ‘Rhino’ Edwards (Status Quo) and Ian Paice (Deep Purple), he’s also a successful solo artist with two full albums under his belt.
His latest 10-track solo release, Dead Man Walking, is a mix of blues, rock and country with occasional hints of Americana and gospel.
The album opens with Promised Land which immediately signals that this latest offering is going to be stylistically different from the critically acclaimed, Ballad of a Prodigal Son. It has the feel of a southern work song, with a cappella vocal harmonies, acoustic guitar and soulful lyrics. It leads into the title track: a catchy blues-rock song with driving rhythms, soaring strings and a short but tasty solo. Written in collaboration with Bernie Marsden, Dead Man Walking was released as a single in 2021.
Razor’s Edge continues the bluesy vibe and ably showcases Kirkpatrick’s versatility as a musician: here, as well as leading on vocals and guitar, he plays bass and percussion. It’s a song that takes you on a journey from the fuzzy guitar opening, through some restrained solos, some unexpected but memorable key and tempo changes, to a glorious goosebump moment about four minutes in … and that momentary pause just before the end? Perfect.
Life On The Run is a more upbeat, out-and-out rock song which is followed by a change in pace with the soulful, The Journey Home. The latter starts quietly, allowing the vocals to be the main focus, and gradually builds in volume as more instruments join in. It possibly won’t be to everyone’s taste, but what it does demonstrate is Kirkpatrick’s willingness to venture outside his musical comfort zone.
The single, Union Train, was released at the end of March and was voted Classic Rock’s Track of the Week. It’s by no means the strongest song on the album and is slightly too long, but it has a country rock/Americana feel to it that will get your foot tapping, plus some great backing vocals from Alex McIlquham-Jones and some powerful playing by Clare ‘Fluff’ Smith on the fiddle.
There’s a return to more familiar territory with Road of Bones. If you are a blues fan, you’ll love this track: almost five minutes of pure blues rhythms and riffs, powerful bass lines, some punchy guitar licks and a delicious solo to bring it to a close. It’s a song you are going to want to have on repeat it’s so good.
Despite its title, Heaven Above brings you back to earth with a bump (sorry). There is nothing wrong with it musically, but it’s let down by some uncharacteristically clunky lyrics which are an unwelcome distraction from what is an otherwise solid blues-rock number. Thankfully, order is restored with the penultimate song, Hold On; its upbeat tempo, impressive vocal harmonies and classic blues-rock guitar riffs are guaranteed to put a smile on your face.
The album closes with a superb rendition of Rory Gallagher’s, I Fall Apart. It retains the spirit of the original but there’s a greater emotional intensity to this version courtesy of a huge orchestral score which adds extra richness and depth. The guitar playing on this song is sublime and when the solo kicks in, it’s spine tingling! Kirkpatrick is at his very best in this song and it definitely leaves you wanting more.
Dead Man Walking is an album that confirms Jim Kirkpatrick’s place as one of the most skilful and talented blues-rock guitarists around. It’s well worth a listen.