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The Missing Moonlighters: Live / Studio Closet Tapes

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Album Review

Bill Kirchen, the master of the Telecaster, started his first post-Commander Cody Band, the Moonlighters, with other guys from the Lost Planet Airmen. At first, they were actually Moonlighting from Cody, but when that band splintered, the Moonlighters became Kirchen's main gig and the first Bill Kirchen Band. The band released three official albums, including the Nick Lowe produced Rush Hour, before Kirchen left for the East coast. During their brief heyday they moved from a country/swing band in the manner of Commander Cody to a skinny tie semi-new wave group. The tunes from these recently unearthed sessions cover both aspects of the band's history. The live disc includes selections recorded at various San Francisco Bay Area nightclubs and one from a Canadian tour. The sound quality varies widely and often Kirchen's guitar and vocals, which are the main attraction, are lost in the muddy mix. The best moments — "Let It Rock" a Chuck Berry knock-off by Al Anderson that features a twanging Kirchen solo, great piano work from Austin De Lone, and Tony Johnson's frenzied drumming, a horn heavy arrangement of the traditional country blues "Sittin' on Top of the World" with solid pedal steel work by Steve Fishell and a Kirchen solo you can actually decipher, and "Ubangi Stomp," the Sun Records classic, with hot solos from Kirchen, De Lone, and Johnson The sound quality on the studio recordings isn't great, either, but the mix is clean and you can hear what everyone is playing. Most of the band's original material is made up of generic bar band tunes that recycle familiar riffs and style without adding anything new or even mildly interesting. Kirchen's leads are often the best thing on any given track, but even a good guitarist can't save a mediocre song. Two of the best tracks are covers, never a good sign. "Seven Nights to Rock" gives Rockpile's version a run for its money with a solid Kirchen solo driving the band home. "The Angels Listened In" is an oldie first done by the Crests, and it's fun more for its nostalgic kick than any intrinsic musical merit. "All Tore Up," a band original, is an energetic three-chord rocker with a roadhouse vibe, and "True Love" is a cool midtempo love song with a catchy chorus and a new wave meets '50s feel. Then there's the best of he rest: "Worthy of a Second Step" (a passable Memphis soul-meets-Motown ballad, "The Day I Throw My Phone Away" (a rockin' kiss-off of an old girlfriend written before cell phones became ubiquitous), and "Big Noise in the Neighborhood," an odd, almost metallic party anthem. ~ j. poet, Rovi

The Missing Moonlighters: Live / Studio Closet Tapes, The Moonlighters
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