Any time Telecasting twangbanger Bill Kirchen gets together with his old boss Nick Lowe, I'm in. Recorded mostly in London with ringers like keyboardist Geraint Watkins, Hammer of the Honky Tonk Gods is a tour de force of the Kirchenist religion, ranging from the twangy-est Bakersfield tonk to a make-you-cry country soul take of Arthur Alexander's "If It's Really Got to Be This Way." Kirchen also hammers out a heady mix of twang and doo-wop on his own composition "Working Man" ("A working man can't understand / why he can't afford a ticket to the promised land") and on Blackie Farrell's blue country nail-in-the-brain killer "Skid Row In My Mind." Kirchen also touches his Michigan roots with a twisted take on Shorty Long's "Devil With the Blue Dress" and subtly annihilates the honky tonk nugget "Heart of Gold."
There must be 300 years of touring/recording experience on this album whose beauty comes from the journeyman "keep it simple" skill and care that these elder statesmen of rock bring to their countrified work. These are master musicians who knew what they were looking for in these sessions and captured it. Despite the Who's Who of British New Wave players here, with Kirchen delivering lines like "it was born at the junction of form and function" and wielding his own "hammer of the honky tonk gods" Telecaster like John Henry competing with the steam-powered spike driver, from the first note this sounds like an Americana classic. - William Michael Smith
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Bill Kirchen performs tonight at the Continental Club, 3700 Main St., 713-529-9899