Seeds and Stems

Even in a town crawling with hotshot guitarists, veteran axe-slinger and current Austin resident Bill Kirchen stands out. A fleet-fingered showman and an ingratiating frontman with wit and taste to match his technique, Kirchen delivers his rollicking mix of honky-tonk heartbreakers and diesel-fueled truck drivin’ tunes with bottomless enthusiasm and effortless expertise. Seeds and Stems — a live-in-the-studio session cut in London between U.K. tour dates — comes as close to capturing Kirchen’s essence as any record could reasonably be expected to. The rousing 13-song set finds the artist and his longtime rhythm section (augmented by keyboardist Austin de Lone) ripping through some of his most enduring live numbers, with the same easy mastery and infectious spirit that makes his club gigs such a blast. The material spans the breadth of the artist’s four-decade-plus career, encompassing his days as a member of pioneering ’70s roots-rockers Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen as well as his subsequent solo releases. Kirchen and company imbue such Cody-era tunes as “Too Much Fun,” “Semi-Truck,” and “Mama Hated Diesels” with fresh energy, while the more recent “Womb to the Tomb” and “Truck Stop at the End of the World,” and a bittersweet reading of Bob Dylan’s “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry,” further demonstrate Kirchen’s superlative skills. The album climaxes with the Lost Planet Airmen chestnut “Hot Rod Lincoln,” performed here as an eight-minute extravaganza, with Kirchen replicating the trademark styles of guitar icons from Merle Travis to Freddie King. Like the rest of Seeds and Stems, the epic yet earthy performance captures the dieselbilly master firing on all cylinders. — SCOTT SCHINDER

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