Everyone knows how to write the blues. String together a I-IV-V chord progression, doodle on the minor pentatonic, cobble together some lyrics about how your baby left you and maybe throw in a line about a train or whiskey if you’re feeling frisky. It’s tried, true and – some would argue – very much stuck in the past.
That’s why Kirk Fletcher wanted to stretch out. The writing process for his new album, Heartache by the Pound, saw the L.A.-born musician trying new things in an effort to invigorate his take on a genre that too often gets stuck on the same old tropes.
“When you listen to old blues records by Muddy Waters or Albert King, there’s really cool songwriting,” he says. “These days, the attention to detail on songwriting has been neglected in a lot of ways – and I wanted to address that.”
With a knack for deft turns of phrase, Fletcher finds a fresh spin on timeless topics like love. Not that he means that in just the romantic sense; Fletcher, the son of a preacher, grew up in a Pentecostal church and has a more eternal version of that emotion on his mind through much of the album. And his willingness to push himself musically saw him experimenting with chord voicing and progressions more familiar to rock and jazz.
“I think everything I do has gotta be blues or really blues-based, but I feel free to incorporate other things. If the chords need to be rearranged to fit the local melody or song, I feel free to do that. In the same regard, Albert King and guys like that did songs that didn’t have the I-IV-V structure, and Albert King is super-blues!”
If pushing himself as a songwriter was important to Fletcher, so was capturing a vibe. A chunk of the album was recorded in just three days in Muscle Shoals’ legendary FAME studios.
“I look at myself as sort of a pretty traditional blues band that functions as jazz. Jazz musicians love to improvise and never do it the same way twice. Just have fun and be in the moment, because that’s the way I was raised in church.”
While Heartache by the Pound is yet another strong addition to Fletcher’s growing solo output, he’s also made a name for himself as a sideman, sharing stages with everyone from Joe Bonamassa to Cyndi Lauper. Now that he calls Nashville home, he hopes to see his list of collaborators continue to grow.
“Oh man, I’d love to work with Jason Isbell, [producer] Dave Cobb, Dave Delgado. Oh, man!”
- Heartache by the Pound is out now.