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The Complete Trix Recordings is a reasonably priced two-CD collection consisting of two separate albums Eddie Kirkland recorded during the early ‘70s for the Trix label. These two discs are so dissimilar one might reasonably conclude that different artists recorded them, but such is the versatility of Jamaica-born bluesman Kirkland.
Front and Center is a solo set of electric and acoustic country blues, while The Devil and Other Blues Demons finds the turban-headed Kirkland combining fiery electric blues with Memphis-style soul and James Brown-style funk. He’s backed on the latter disc by a chooglin’ group from upstate New York called the Italian-American Blues Band.
Now 71, Eddie Kirkland grew up in Alabama, ran away from home to play guitar with a medicine show at age 12, backed John Lee Hooker during the latter’s "Boom Boom" period, and spent time as Otis Redding’s musical director. Kirkland is a very inventive self-taught guitarist who, like Wes Montgomery, uses his thumb and fingers rather than a conventional pick to generate some unusual chords and riffs. Kirkland is still performing great music today, as evidenced by his excellent 1997 album Lonely Street.
Front and Center provides an intimate forum for Kirkland’s rootsy guitar work. His slide technique is particularly impressive here, and his original tunes bow to tradition without surrendering to it. This disc also demonstrates Kirkland’s prowess on harp.
Since I usually prefer the dynamics of a group performance to a solo set, the second disc is my favorite. Raw and danceable, it showcases Kirkland’s unique guitar playing and his powerful soul-drenched vocals. Kirkland’s voice sounds uncannily like James Brown’s on about half these cuts, but in no way does he come off as an imitator. His embrace of soul and blues styles has always made Kirkland’s music hard to pigeonhole, but no matter what you label it, Devil delivers some fine funky fare. Some songs are more evocative of Otis Redding ("Snake In the Grass," "Georgia Woman"); still others offer straightforward blues ("Hard To Raise A Family Today," Rollin’ Stone Man"). The Italian-American Band provides loose and versatile backing for the soulful Kirkland.
The Complete Trix Recordings is a diverse collection from a creative but scandalously underrated blues musician and songwriter.
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.