By Al Kaufman
Like his musical friends Tommy Womack, Rodney Crowell, and, to a lesser degree, Todd Snider, Will Kimbrough has comfortably settled into middle age. On his fifth solo CD (he has released at least five others as part of various bands and produced a few others) Nashville/Americana stalwart Kimbrough deals with issues that a middle age man with a wife and daughters deals with; namely his wife and two daughters.
Yes, this CD has a lot of unabashedly simple love songs to his wife (“Big Big Love” and “Love to Spare”) and entire family (“Three Angels”). They’re sappier than maple syrup, but just as sweet. Kimbrough is a good enough writer that he is able to get away with it. Even “A Couple Hundred Miracles,” with lines like “Every step’s a miracle/Every breath’s a gift,” which make the song sound like it should be played on Christian radio, seems sincere, if annoyingly upbeat.
This is not the same Will Kimbrough who wrote 2007′s Americanitis, a caustically humorous take on the political situation in the U.S. at that time. The wit, humor, and bile is tempered down here. Kimbrough is no longer angry, he is happy. He is content. That is a dangerous thing for a singer to be. But Kimbrough can still write a good line and he mixes up the music just enough on Wings to keep listeners’ attention.
“You Can’t Go Home” has has an ominous quality to it that would fit in well with an old Western. Kimbrough has a nice harmonica opening on the title cut; a song co-written with Jimmy Buffett. It, along with two other collaborations appeared on Buffett’s Buffett Hotel. “It Ain’t Cool,” written with pal Todd Snider, also has a cool, slightly menacing feel, but can’t seem to get beyond the refrain, “It ain’t cool to talk about people when they’re not around.” The horn infused “Open to Love” could successfully close any revival. It’s the kind of song off of which Lyle Lovett has made a living.
Kimbrough is a fabulous musician. He is a man who won the 2004 Americana Music Association Instrumentalist of the Year. He plays his usual variety of instruments here and has a group of accomplished musicians backing him up. But he doesn’t show off on Wings. His music is subtle and tight. It’s crisp and clear, in order to work with his sunny lyrics. While a little bit of darkness would have added some depth, Wings is the work of a confident, accomplished musician who is not afraid to say that he is happy.