Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Will Kimbrough: “I Like It Down Here” (2019) CD Review

Will Kimbrough has a fairly impressive and busy career, having played with folks like Jimmy Buffett, Amy Rigby and Emmylou Harris, as well as in the bands Daddy (with Tommy Womack) and Willie Sugarcapps. He’s also produced other artists’ albums. And then of course there is his solo career and his songwriting credits (his songs have been covered by artists like Little Feat and Todd Snider). His new solo album, I like It Down Here, features all original material, written or co-written by Will Kimbrough. Besides lead vocals, Will Kimbrough plays the majority of the instruments on this release, including guitar, keys, harmonica and even bass on one track. Joining him on this release are Chris Donohue on bass, and Bryan Owings on drums and percussion, along with several guests joining him on certain tracks.

The album gets off to a good start with “Hey Trouble,” a cool tune with something of a laid-back folk rock vibe and vocals that have a wonderfully experienced quality, a voice of someone that has seen some troubles, but who will likely make it through, and perhaps pull us through too. Isn’t that what we’re looking for? A line near the beginning of this song grabbed my attention the first time I listened to this disc: “A black cat crossed my mind.” How is that for trouble of one’s own making? And is that the kind that is perhaps least escapable? These lyrics are blues through and through. Dean Owens joins him on vocals on this track. “Hey Trouble” is followed by the disc’s title track, “I Like It Down Here,” which also has a cool, somewhat relaxed vibe. I dig the rhythm, and the way the vocal line is part of that rhythm. This track also features some nice backing vocals by Lisa Oliver-Gray (there is something almost beautiful about the way the song’s title line is delivered). And there is a certain humor to this one, in lines like “I like a wake-up call at half past one/If I had a job, I’d get her done” and “I want a woman with a face like a question mark/Who cleans up good when it’s nice and dark.” But perhaps my favorite element of this song is the work on guitar, especially during that instrumental section in the second half of the song.

“Alabama (For Michael Donald)” begins with a stripped down sound, and tells the true story of the murder of Michael Donald by members of the terrorist organization Ku Klux Klan in 1981. It is told from Michael Donald’s perspective, and has an appropriately somber sound. In these horrible days of renewed racism in this country, when the president himself is a racist asshole, it is important to let the racists know their views are not welcome, to let them know their actions will not be tolerated. We can’t be silent. As Elie Wiesel once said: “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” A song like “Alabama (For Michael Donald)” is important in reminding people of the terrible results of racism left unchecked. It seems that this country is right on the edge, flirting dangerously with white supremacy. Yes, the events of this song occurred nearly four decades ago, but if we’re not careful, this story will soon be current again. “Took me to the woods/Beat me bloody/I begged them for my life.” We then stay in dark territory with “Buddha Blues,” a wonderfully raw and haunting blues number featuring some excellent stuff on guitar and a powerful vocal performance. Interestingly, this one is told from the perspective of a murderer, its opening lines being “I killed a man to get in here/Here I’ll be for life.” Brigitte DeMeyer joins him on vocals for this one. Brigitte and Will have collaborated on several albums over the years, including Mockingbird Soul, their first release as a duo.

Will Kimbrough then picks things up, lifts us with “I’m Not Running Away,” a country tune which has a kind of pop energy. “I’m not running away, I’m just running/I never could sit still for very long.” There is a very positive feel to this track, which features Anthony Crawford on pedal steel and vocals, and Savana Lee Crawford on vocals. “It’s A Sin” is one of my favorite tracks, in part because of its overall vibe, which has a good deal of soul, but also because of the presence of saxophone. That’s Jim Hoke, by the way. Lisa Oliver-Gray provides wonderful backing vocals, and this track also features more good stuff on guitar. “It’s an old town/It’s a tired old town/Few know the right from the wrong.” “Anything Helps” has a pleasant folk sound right from the start, with harmonica. Will Kimbrough sings, “It’s not always been like this/Took a swing at life and missed.” What a great line, “Took a swing at life and missed.” It’s both funny and sad. This is a good song, a reminder that we are all in this thing together, whatever it is, and we can all use some help, and can all offer help as well. Dean Owens, who co-wrote the song with Will Kimbrough, adds his voice to this track. The album then concludes with “Star,” a beautiful and friendly song. “I think I saw your star as I laid my head to rest/In all the things you knew/And what you ain’t found yet/In the beat of your heart against my empty chest/I think I saw your star, you gave me all your best.”

CD Track List
  1. Hey Trouble
  2. I Like It Down Here
  3. Alabama (For Michael Donald)
  4. Buddha Blues
  5. I’m Not Running Away
  6. When I Get To Memphis
  7. It’s A Sin
  8. Salt Water & Sand
  9. Anything Helps
  10. Star
I Like It Down Here is scheduled to be released on April 19, 2019 on Daphne Records.

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