The program starts with "When I first Started Hoboing", Eddie's reconstruction of John Lee Hooker's "Hobo Blues". Musically, Eddie's version is quite different from John Lee's. For one thing, Eddie plays the song out of a tuning I've never heard used before, a hybrid of Vestapol and Spanish (Vestanish? Spanapol?), in which the bottom three strings of the guitar are tuned as though in Vestapol, Root-Fifth-Root, and the top three strings are tuned as though in Spanish. When you combine these two halves you end up with an instrument tuned (assuming the first and sixth strings are tuned to D) D-A-D-G-B-D. Eddie uses this tuning to play in D in this instance, and he gets a uniquely interesting sound with it, and comes up with some voicings for his IV7 and V7 chords that I've not heard used before. He follows with "I Tried To Be a Friend", which he plays out of B position in standard tuning on an electric guitar, often droning the low E string underneath his I chord. His singing is spectacular here, and he takes a really wild solo in which he goes into a kind of Spanish-sounding double time. "Eddie's Boogie Chillen" is not all that different from John Lee Hooker's "Boggie Chillen", and in fact, Eddie dedicates his performance to John Lee. For "Nora", Eddie backs himself out of E in standard tuning with harmonica, and his phrasing is quite variable, though always with a strong pulse. Once again, original touches creep in, as he does a walk underneath his singing that I've not heard done before. He moves over to a National guitar for "I Need a Lover Not a Friend", and sounds terrific on it. For "I Walked Twelve Miles", Eddie moves back to similar musical territory to what he covered on "Nora". "I've Got an Evil Woman" is a spooky number on which Eddie accompanies himself on electric guitar, utilizing a lot of distinctive and seldom-encountered chord voicings. "I'm Goin' Back to Mississippi" finds Eddie playing a 12-string guitar in E. "Lonesome Talking Blues" puts Eddie back on the National in the hybrid tuning he used for "When I First Started Hoboing". "Detroit Rock Island" is a tribute to many of Eddie's friends from the blues scene in Detroit. "Jerdine" is a slide piece in Vestapol. "Have You Seen That Lonesome Train" is a funky number pairing guitar with harp. The program concludes with "Going to the River, See Can I Look Across", an exceptionally exciting number in Spanish tuning, and my favorite number in the program.
Eddie was originally from Georgia, born in 1928, and did the greater portion of his recordings in small electric ensembles. It is always instructive seeing how an ensemble player handles playing solo. Eddie had what I would characterize as a sense of timing and phrase length with a strong pulse, always, but with variable phrase lengths, like many of his peers of his generation. So it is that he, just as much as someone like Lightnin' Hopkins, might be likely to lose a pick-up back-up band, if they were not really listening and paying close attention to what he was doing. Eddie's music was Country enough not to be concerned with adhering to formal conventions--rather he altered and invented the form as he went, to suit his expressive needs. Vocally, Eddie came across as someone who believed in what he sang and projected that belief as strongly as he was able, which was very strongly indeed. His playing showed a great deal of inventiveness and curiosity, coming up with different sounds and ways of playing songs than his contemporaries did. His playing also had a "Go for it!" quality, a striving for the most expressive way of doing things, and if the execution occasionally came up short the spirit and courage to keep on trying did not. The looseness of the performances here makes you feel as though you were attending the sessions yourself.
I'm sorry not to have been acquainted with Eddie Kirkland's music earlier, but am glad to have finally heard it and to be getting to know it. He had a great deal to offer, and if you come upon this record anywhere, I'd highly recommend that you pick it up. It's a gem.
Review by Johnm, WeenieCampbell.com