Kirk Eli Fletcher's debut, "I'm Here & I'm Gone" is a prime slice of West Coast Blues. Having listened to it a couple of times before reading the notes, I'm still amazed that Fletcher is only 22. His guitar playing and songwriting display a level of maturity that is way beyond his years.
After drummer Paul Fasulo initially sent a tape of Fletcher to the JSP label, he got the go-ahead to make "I'm Here & I'm Gone," with Jimmy Morello at the controls, which turned out to be a masterstroke. He brings out the best in Fletcher, with a little help from the band too, of course. Morello also wrote six of the seven songs (the other is a cover of "I'm Not Your Fool"), while Fletcher penned the four instrumentals.
Fletcher gives a quick burst of what to expect in the opening bars of the first track "I Ain't Doing Nothing Wrong." The band ease themselves into place, and once the horns get in the groove, especially the baritone sax, you know you're in for a treat. Fletcher only plays guitar on the album, although that is a bit like saying Rembrandt was only a painter.
The first self-penned tune ("Church Street Boogie") opens with a tenor sax break that harks back to the heyday of Rhythm & Blues. This is followed by Fletcher's solo which is stylistically closer to jazz than Blues, although it has a Blues feel to it. Although Fletcher is the star of the show, he never hogs all the limelight, and always gives the rest of the band a chance to show what they can do.
Although it doesn't say so in the notes, "I'm Here & I'm Gone" has the feeling of an album that was cut live in the studio (complete with one or two bum notes, if you listen closely). This live feel is especially evident on the self-penned instrumental "Watsonized," a paean to Fletcher's mentor, the sadly under-rated Junior Watson. It's a raucous shuffle, which includes persistent voices egging on the band. What makes it, and the whole album, though, is the old tube amp sound, popularized by Watson, that Fletcher wrenches out of his guitar. It gives his playing that extra low down and dirty feel.
"I'm Here & I'm Gone" is a cracker of an album. If you like horn fuelled West Coast Rhythm and Blues with some sizzling guitar, and big, soulful vocals, then this one is for you. Even if you don't like that sort of thing, buy it anyway, and play it really loud so that you can convince yourself of the error of your ways. If he can keep this standard up, Kirk "Eli" Fletcher has a big future ahead of him.
This review is copyright © 1999 by Gordon Baxter, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved.