From his pivotal role in Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen–retrospectively recognized as a seminal alt-country band–through his solo career and sideman stints with the likes of Nick Lowe, guitarist Bill Kirchen has primarily been recognized as a master of the high-octane Telecaster. This release serves as a change of pace, as Kirchen puts the hot licks on the back burner while showcasing his songwriting chops and range as a vocal interpreter.

After the hard-twanging title track provides a hymn to Kirchen’s instrument of choice, he turns soulful and spiritual with “Rocks into Sand,” shows a populist’s social conscience on “Working Man,” delivers a version of “Devil with the Blue Dress” that is closer to Shorty Long’s R&B original than to Mitch Ryder’s rock revival, and ends with a steel-guitar-laced transformation of soul legend Arthur Alexander’s “If It’s Really Got to Be This Way.” The arrangements tend toward stripped-down intimacy, with former bandmates Lowe and Geraint Watkins and labelmates the Hacienda Brothers among those providing support.

1. Hammer of the Honky-Tonk Gods
2. Rocks into Sand
3. Get a Little Goner
4. Skid Row in My Mind
5. Working Man
6. Soul Cruisin’
7. Truth Be Told
8. Devil with the Blue Dress
9. One More Day
10. Heart of Gold
11. If It’s Really Got to Be This Way

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Bill Kirchen – Hammer of the Honky Tonk Gods (2006)

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