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Bill Kirchen

Tied to the Wheel – 2001 (HighTone)

Reviewed by Jon Johnson

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CDs by Bill Kirchen

As the original lead guitarist for Commander Cody's Lost Planet Airmen, Bill Kirchen has had a long association with trucker music, starting with the Airmen's terrific (and underrated) 1972 album "Hot Licks, Cold Steel and Truckers' Favorites."

Though Kirchen has returned to the genre since then for the occasional album cut, this gives ample cause for celebration as Kirchen's first trucker-themed album since the Airmen years.

Opening with "Truck Stop at the End of the World" (co-written by Kirchen and the Commander himself, George Frayne), Kirchen and band roll through a dozen numbers; relying heavily on outside material with versions of "Dim Lights, Thick Smoke" and Collins' early Haggard contribution "Prison Band" turning out particularly well. Covers of "How Mountain Girls Can Love" (with lead vocals from drummer Jack O'Dell) and Bob Dylan's "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues," fine as they are, represent the album's only really questionable inclusions; falling a bit too far outside of the rest of the album, both in tone and theme.

Still, Kirchen and band are in prime form here, mixing trucker themes, Bakersfield twang and a dose of honky-tonk shuffle - as winning a combination today as it was 30 years ago.