By Al Kaufman
Like his friends Todd Snider and Hayes Carll, Will Kimbrough is a man who can tell a magical story about everyday people doing everyday things in four minutes or less. Sometimes the story is funny, sometimes it is sad. Sometimes it is both. But it is always insightful. It is always clever without demanding to be noticed as such. And it always has characters that the listener can empathize with. Unlike his friends, who lean more toward the country side of Americana, Kimbrough incorporates more of a blues feel to his music, especially on Sideshow Love.
Although Kimbrough’s 2006 release, Americanitis, written during the W Bush error, had a strong political bent, Kimbrough has always preferred to write about love and dreams. He described Sideshow Love as a “volume of short stories” on the theme of love. It opens with the bluesy, slide guitar-heavy, “When Your Loving Comes Around,” about the “empty blissful feeling” of when love first strikes. The album then continues to go through all the highs and lows. “Let the Big World Spin” seems like it is going to tackle some heavy social issues, but when Kimbrough announces that to solve his problems he needs some wine, beer, and a feather bed, you realize his problems revolve around a girl. He’s self-deprecating in “I Want Too Much,” depressed in the post break-up “Has Anybody Seen My Heart?,” and so in love in the swampy title track that the paparazzi hang out at their house.
Lyrically, the only misfire may be “Home Economics,” which, strangely enough, is the song Kimbrough cites as the one that started as the impetus for the album. Stating that men like looks while women like a guy with money who can fix things offers nothing new, but the old timey, New Orleans-style music makes the clichéd lyrics forgivable.
Kimbrough, who has played guitar for the likes of Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell, and written songs with Jimmy Buffet and Todd Snider, put together a crack band. Bassist Chris Donahue and drummer Paul Griffith keep the beat and allow Kimbrough to show off his guitar licks (or, in the case of “All We Can Do Is Love,” killer banjo), while vocalist Lisa Oliver Gray, with her sweet and sassy voice, is the perfect foil for Kimbrough’s gravelly growl. And just check out how these guys work together in the gospel-tinged “Soulfully.”
This is a nice, mature, wonderfully crafted depiction of all the facets of love. In music, it’s been done too many times to count, but rarely has it been done this well.
Don’t miss Will Kimbrough at Eddie’s Attic this Sunday, April 6th with Amy Black and Bonnie Bishop! Doors at 6 p.m. Tickets: GA $10 in advance, $14 at the door. Table seats are $12.50 and must be purchased in multiples of 4.