He may not be a household name but it’s a fair bet that most Blabber’n’Smoke readers will have several albums that have benefited from the presence of Will Kimbrough as a player or producer, often both. Included in his extensive CV are Brigitte DeMeyer’s last two albums and the pair have toured together extensively. It makes sense then that the pair have decided to record Mockingbird Soul, a set of songs written by the duo and set firmly in the Southern traditions of country, blues and soul. Their shared playing experience has certainly honed their harmonising with the duet’s singing throughout the album superb and they’ve had the good sense to keep it simple, the majority of the songs featuring Kimbrough’s guitar along with double bass (Chris Donohue) with spare percussion on the odd occasion. The result is an album that will surely delight followers of the likes of Mavis Staples and Ry Cooder along with anyone who is a sucker for well crafted male/female harmonies.
A couple of the songs are relatively straightforward retreads of familiar tropes. The Juke is a country blues number which allows Kimbrough plenty of space for his fine slide playing and excellent harmonica as DeMeyer comes across like an amalgam of Bonnie Raitt and Bobbie Gentry. Running Round is another country blues jaunt that recalls the likes of The Loving Spoonful or Taj Mahal while Honey Bee harks back to the days of innuendo laden viperish jazz torch songs (think of Betty Boop). DeMeyer milks the song for all it’s worth as Kimbrough adds a wonderfully lazy backbeat. All three are excellent but they are but crumbs in comparison to the main course on offer here.
The album opens with Everything, Kimbrough’s delicate acoustic guitar leading into an enchanting song of enduring love that immediately showcases their vocal empathy. Broken Fences is more spirited with Kimbrough’s voice to the fore on a frontier number with gutsy guitar runs on a song that might have sprung from the pen of Steve Young. There’s some Dr. John like gumbo on the sultry Rainy Day (with Chris Woods taking on the double bass role here with some gusto) and speaking of Dr John New Orleans is the subject of one of the highlights here. An impressionistic take on the Crescent City with Kimbrough’s sole guitar strumming beneath the pair’s breathy vocals, Little Easy is suffused with sensations of the city, the shining stars, reflections on the water, muddy banks and a hot and heavy breeze. It’s a wonderful song and the pair match it with the snapshot of a street seller in Carpet Beggar’s Lullaby, again a song that is delicate and empathetic. The title track meanwhile is a soulful number with Kimbrough picking some fat and curly guitar like Pops Staples as DeMeyer testifies.
The album ends with a surprise as the pair tackle an old Incredible String Band Song from 1966, October Song. A Kimbrough suggestion apparently but one which reminded DeMeyer of Townes Van Zandt when she first heard the guitar part. It’s a breathtaking reinvention of the song transporting it from the cold climes of an Edinburgh winter high into the Appalachians. Kimbrough’s guitar cascades throughout with frills and runs as he and DeMeyer hit some high lonesome notes with their performance here rivalling the best of Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. It’s simply wonderful.
Mockingbird Soul is one of those albums that will surely grow in stature as word of its excellence spreads. Helping to spread the word Kimbrough and DeMeyer are touring the UK in March and the good news is that they visit Glasgow on 24th March for a Sounds In The Suburbs show at a new venue, the Fox Star Club in The Argyll Hotel, 973 Sauchiehall St. A gig not to be missed.