Friday, June 9, 2023

Kyle Culkin: “Shotgun Ridge” (2023) CD Review

Kyle Culkin is a singer and songwriter who combines elements of folk, country and blues in his music. He put out his first album, My Americana, in 2020, and followed it the next year with Pork Chops & Blues. His new album, Shotgun Ridge, features a mix of covers and original material. Kyle Culkin sings lead, and plays guitar and bass on these tracks. And he has some seriously talented musicians backing him. Joining him on this release are Jamieson Trotter (whom you might know from his work with Mark Winkler, Gary Brumburgh and Mark Christian Miller, among others) on piano and organ, Marty Rifkin (who has played with The Rave-Ups, RJ Chesney and Bruce Springsteen) on pedal steel, Adam Gust (who has played with Red Elvises and Jeff Kollman) on drums and percussion, and Jade MacRae (known for her solo work and her work with Joe Bonamassa) on backing vocals, along with some special guests on various tracks.

The album opens with an original number, “My Baby’s Gone,” a lively song with a strong country flavor, featuring some nice work on piano. Kyle Culkin digs into the rawer element of his voice as he sings, “She likes kicking my heart around.” And soon he tells us, “And now I’m sitting here, drinking alone,” which is certainly a perfect line for a country tune. And even though this woman is gone, he is still somewhat hopeful, singing, “But in the end, I hope you’ll meet me again and want my love.” Yeah, sounds like he’s in rough shape. But the music has good amount of energy, and the track includes a strong guitar lead in the second half. That’s followed by “Trashy With You,” a totally fun country blues song, with some lines that make me laugh, such as this: “Your red lipstick looks as fine as my favorite box of red, red wine.” Just the fact that he uses the word “box” instead of “bottle” is a delightful touch, and it works so well with the song’s main line, “I want to get trashy with you.” And he throws in some more trashy details, including a Coors T-shirt (does anyone actually drink that stuff?), mud flaps, Daisy Dukes. Jade MacRae adds some nice, playful stuff on backing vocals.

Albert Lee joins the band on guitar and backing vocals on Kyle Culkin’s cover of “Whole ‘Nutha Thang,” another fun number. As you might guess, this track features some great stuff on guitar. Then Johnny Hiland joins the group on guitar for “Two More Bottles Of Wine.” Glad to find Kyle Culkin has moved from boxes to bottles. This song was written by Delbert McClinton, and recorded by Emmy Lou Harris, who included it on her 1978 LP Quarter Moon In A Ten Cent Town. Kyle Culkin delivers an energetic, cheerful rendition, a track that has the feel of a great neighborhood bar where a band is rocking and the alcohol is flowing, and the folks are dancing, without a care to be found for several miles around. That’s followed by “Willin’,” a song I’ve always loved. I am glad I got a chance to see Little Feat a couple of times when they opened for the Grateful Dead, though by then Lowell George was long gone. Linda Ronstadt also did a great rendition of this song. Kyle Culkin does a really good job with it, giving it just the right emotional weight. This rendition features some nice work on pedal steel. And here is another song that involves wine, though this time we don’t know whether it’s in a box or a bottle, just that it is combined with weed and whites.

“Passing Through” is another song that I love, and one that gets in my head frequently. Once during a set break at a Leonard Cohen concert, some folks near me started singing this song, and didn’t stop until Leonard Cohen came back on stage. He took up the song for a moment, joining all of us who were singing it at that point, before going into his regular second set opener, “Tower Of Song.” It was a beautiful moment that brought the audience together. Max MacLaury joins Kyle Culkin on vocals and acoustic guitar on this track, delivering some wonderful work. This is a sweet rendition, with some lovely work on piano and pedal steel. This song provides a good reminder to us, “We’re all on one road, and we’re only passing through.” That’s followed by a rousing, completely delicious rendition of “Creepin’ In,” a song written by Lee Alexander and originally recorded by Norah Jones, who included it on her 2004 album Feels Like Home. Here Jade MacRae gets a chance to really shine on vocals. There is also some wonderful work on guitar.

Kyle Culkin goes back to original material with “Angels Get Their Way,” which is one hell of a great song title. This is a somewhat mellower song, a beautiful number with a moving vocal performance. “And I know I should try/To sing you one more late-night lullaby/And I wish you could stay/But angels get their way.” And Jade MacRae shines again. That’s followed by a cover of Ted Russell Kamp’s “Path Of Least Resistance,” a song he included on his 2021 album Solitaire. And Ted Russell Kamp joins Kyle Culkin on vocals on this track. This is another beautiful performance, another beautiful song. This track features some excellent work on guitar. “Well, I tell you I’m not giving up, and I will not let you down/But these words I tell myself will help me turn this thing around.” The album concludes with an original song, “Sweet Lullaby,” a song that celebrates mothers, their sacrifices and their love. “Around 1985 when I was just a kid/My mother and I didn’t have as much as others did/But when I was afraid of the dark sounds of night/The greatest gift she gave me was a sweet lullaby.”

CD Track List

  1. My Baby’s Gone
  2. Trashy With You
  3. Whole ‘Nutha Thang
  4. Two More Bottles Of Wine
  5. Willin’
  6. Passing Through
  7. Creepin’ In
  8. Angels Get Their Way
  9. Path Of Least Resistance
  10. Sweet Lullaby

Shotgun Ridge is scheduled to be released on June 30, 2023 on Tonebucker Records.

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