Alabama native Will Kimbrough's been out there working the roots-rock circuit for more than 15 years now, mining the same kind of heartland Americana vibe as Steve Earle and John Mellencamp at times. In fact his last full album was the sharply drawn Americanitis, filled with twangy acoustic guitars and socio-political teeth.
He's fronted Will and the Bushmen and recorded with Rodney Crowell, Todd Snider, Kim Richey, Josh Rouse and Jimmy Buffett (who recorded Kimbrough's “Piece of Work” on his License to Chill CD), and many others. Generally you'll find him on the musical frontlines where roots and rock and country collide.
But now he's stripped things back to just a guitar and cello, with occasional bass and drum support for his new eight-song EP.
It's a quietly powerful batch of folk songs, led by Kimbrough's world-weary rough vocals. Listening to it is like a trip back in time, to those simpler musical days when a man with a twang in his voice could croon in a shot-and-a-beer bar and pack the house thanks to his honesty and passion. You can hear in his music the influences of Johnny Cash and Hank Williams and Woody Guthrie, as he sings about rest stops and endless white lines, blacktop and trees in “Interstate” and the promise of fortune down a rutted road in “Eden Prairie.”
Much of the album celebrates the foibles and fulcrums of love.
In “Godsend” he sings about an “ashtray girl” with a crooked smile as he begs, “god send, god send, send me an angel to love.” Then with a gently shuffling guitar and bass that sounds like the start of a 1950's Johnny Cash song, he acknowledges the fruits of love singing, “I was half a man before you gave the rest to me.”
The love trilogy of wishing, getting and losing is then completed with “Hill Country Girl,” where he sings about unrequited love of a girl who would not be “kept,” nevertheless, she kept the singer's heart:
“I can't help it I guess
though it's made me a mess
I'm in love with a Hill Country Girl.”
(EP) ends with “Love is the Solution,” a manifesto on the ubiquitous subject where over an oscillating chime of guitars, Kimbrough sing-speaks a sililoquy celebrating all the pieces and people of life that we should embrace:
"love is all that matters
love the rainy day
love will set your soul afire
love will take your pain away
love the rich and powerful
love the poor and meek
love the jerk who honks in traffic
love the carnival geek
love is all there really is
love unlocks your mind
love will make a fool of you
so love the fool in kind
love is all you really need
love is all you'll find.”
(EP) is a timeless collection of simple, but powerful sentiment that sings to the heart and soul. Highly recommended for back porch listening! Clearly the No Depression alternative country movement once epitomized by Uncle Tupelo and Wilco and is alive and well -- and touring -- in Will Kimbrough.
Catch Kimbrough live this week at Fitzgerald's with Michelle Malone in Berwyn on July 24. For more information, check his site at www.willkimbrough.com.