Lord set me free and break these chains,” sings Jim Kirkpatrick on “Razors Edge.” I always wonder if that’s what drives his solo career?

Tellingly, he says those words just before he rips out a solo of sheer class. You’re used to that, of course you are, if you have followed Kirkpatrick in his day job (look it up, this is not their review, I’ll see them next month) but rather like the brilliant “Ballad Of A Prodigal Son” (which I called “under the radar but overflowing with class” on these pages) this is a different side to the guitarist.

At its heart, “Dead Man Walking” is a roots record. From the opening “Promised Land” part gospel revival, part chain gang work song, it’s clear that the heartlands of America as much as the Cheshire air are in the pores here.

The title track is superb (in fact, let’s save time and assume all of them are?). There’s a crunch, a groove, a real soul.

And as much as it helps that the band for the album includes Quo men John ‘Rhino’ Edwards and Leon Cave; plus, Bernie Marsden; Jem Davis (of FM – must listen to them, I’ve heard the guitar player is good….) and more besides, then that almost doesn’t do Kirkpatrick justice. These are his songs; this is his vision.

As much as this is a “blues” record, then any Thunder fans need to get to “Life On The Run” immediately, while the tender ballad, “The Journey Home” is played with all the gentle nature of Robin Trower.

Whatever we expected from “…. Walking” though, Kirkpatrick and the assembled throng have clearly enjoyed changing things around. Right in the middle of this is “Union Train”. The main man reckons he’d been listening to a load of Steve Earle’s “Copperhead Road” era stuff before writing it. He might have. But I’ll also say that this would have been one of the best songs on it, had it appeared earlier.

I’m going to guess that this was a fun record to make. “Road Of Bones” sounds like it for sure. Coming in as it does like a cross between Alannah Myles’ “Black Velvet” (which I might be the only one to remember?) and something on one of Bernie Marsden’s solo albums, and the swaggering “Heaven Above” (with just a little tinge of early Aerosmith) underlines.

A collection that is notable too, for its staggering consistency, adds some Bad Company to the mix. And let’s be honest if you’re comparing anything to that band it must be good. And also, to mention them, you’re invoking Paul Rodgers, and it’s fair enough because Kirkpatrick’s voice is astonishingly good throughout.

There’s even time for a real tearjerker at the end too. “I Fall Apart” is a proper power ballad too, but as if to prove there’s no cliche here, there’s a full-on Led Zeppelin freakout before the end.

Kirkpatrick reckons that this is a massive step forward from the last one. I was sceptical for two reasons. First, I loved the last one and second, every band says it. The thing is though, you’d best not doubt him, because “Dead Man Walking” is a wonderfully crafted record, from one of the best on these shores.

We began with a quote from “Razors Edge” and we’ll end with one too.

“Nothing’s gonna stop me, there’s a fire in my heart” is more than a throwaway line. It’s everything you need to know about this most incredible record.

Rating 9.5/10

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