Rural Life

Pat Kirtley
Mainstring Records

Wood & Steel, Winter 1999

The songs on Pat Kitley's new release, Rural Life, like its cover, conjure a vivid aural image of rural Americana, of which Kirtley is proving himself a master acoustic portraitist. This offering is a homecoming of sorts for Kirtley, after an extended sojourn into the "tonal and rhythmic ambiguity" of traditional Celtic music, which he explored on several previous releases - Irish Guitar, his contributions to Dance of the Celts: A Narada Collection, and the recent two-volume collection, Ramble to Cashel and The Blarney Pilgrim.

Rural Life presents a pastiche of largely original compositions written throughout the '90s, and once again exhibits Kirtley's deft blend of neo-traditional picking, alternate tunings, and path-forging fingerstyle arrangements. His sumptuous phrasing and lithe rhythms add shapely contours to the melodies, while his trademark smooth, fluid articulations and vibrantly rhythmic thumbpicking converge to yield a completeness that Kirtley always has admired in the guitar playing of Chet Atkins.

With one exception, Kirtley recorded the album with his Taylors (514-C, 710-CE, K-14-C), which render supple tones from start to finish. Rural Life opens with "Arnold's Coming Home," a jaunty thumbpicking paean to Arnold Shultz, one of the fathers of the Kentucky thumbpicking guitar style. The toe-tappin' "Rhythm of the Road" acquired its name with the help of a truck driver who heard Kirtley play live and likened its rhythms tot he sound of tires slapping over seams in the road. The album's title track first appeared on Narada's 1998 Masters of Acoustic Guitar, and boasts a rich cascade of ringing tones from a newly minted dreadnought (710-CE), from which, Kirtley says in his liner notes, the song "popped out."

A soft, serene melody unfolds upon the listener in "Through the Tears," a Craig Dobbins song that Kirtley says appealed to him "because it contained every know James Taylor lick in one tune." Noteworthy covers include a lyrical rethreading of the 1975 Orleans hit, "Dance with Me," and (after resisting it all his life) a beautiful arrangement of the pastorale and official state song, "My Old Kentucky Home," penned by Stephen Foster, who like Kirtley, called Bardstown home.

Other musical vignettes that nourish the theme of bucolic country life include "Grandpa's Lullaby," which suggests the soothing languor of a child drifting off to sleep; "Gone Fishing," which evokes the satisfying pursuit of life's simple pleasures; and "It's Raining," in which Kirtley's fingering poignantly captures the subdued melancholy of a rainy day on a farm.

"Jeremiah" serves up Americana In the form of a lively Appalachian pickfest; and in "The Baghdad Scuffle," which Kirtley composed in 1991 against the blue TV glow of Gulf War coverage, a tense intro gives way to an upbeat riff to create a thematic counterpoint to the televised conflict.

Once again, Kirtley demonstrates that he is at his best when preserving the essence of traditional music while venturing into new fingerstyle terrain in search of fresh textures. The result is a pleasing new perspective on a familiar place.

Acoustic Guitar Magazine, April 1999

This new collection of solo acoustic instrumentals from Kentucky guitarist Pat Kirtley shines with originality and fine musicianship. From the earthy country blues of "Arnold's Coming Home" to the tender elegance of "Grandpa's Lullaby," Kirtley's tuneful writing draws from a vivid palette of musical colors, and his playing on knuckle-benders like "Black Pepper" and "The Baghdad Scuffle" demonstrate uncommon agility and precision. A handful of non-original compositions, including Craig Dobbins' "Through The Tears" and Stephen Foster's nostalgic "My Old Kentucky Home," fit the program like a glove. Simply put, Rural Life is everything a great acoustic guitar album should be.

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