Will Kimbrough has been around for a while. Coming up in the closing decades of the last century with CMJ darlings Will and the Bushmen, he established himself as a guy who could play a hell of a good guitar and write a decent song. More often than, you’d find him singing it too. His next band, the Bis-quits, featured bandmates like Tommy Womack and Mike “Grimey” Grimes and showed Kimbrough in a Marshall Crenshaw kind of mood, aided and abetted by John Prine and his Oh Boy Records. A gang of road and studio gigs followed, and for a while in the early part of the century, it seemed like Will Kimbrough was everywhere. That ubiquity did not go unnoticed by the Americana Music Association, who voted Kimbrough Instrumentalist of the Year in 2004, a nomination that stopped a three-year run by none other than string master Jerry Douglas. Outside of his production work for the likes of Matthew Ryan and Kim Richey, Todd Snider and Rodney Crowell have both featured Kimbrough in their bands for years. The comfort zone gigs like that have afforded him has leant a palpable sense of maturity to his recent work and seen him moving from the rockage of being a Bushman to playing in a band called DADDY and co-writing with Jimmy Buffett.
Kimbrough is a father of two, and listening to Wings, it is obvious that his family is a big part of his life. While I am moving towards the twilight of my youth, I have not yet sired offspring and embraced the glories therein that have prompted singers and songwriters to write familial love paeans for eons. As such, while songs like the opening “Three Angels” may strike a chord with that set, it is far from my favorite subject matter. Frankly, it only makes me dwell on the fact that Jimmy Buffett is really sweet on him. While Kimbrough has a gang of co-writes on the the Coral Reefer’s new record, Buffett only appears on the title track, and truth be told it’s a pretty good song. Cleveland songwriter Jeff Finlin gets the majority of the co-writes on Wings, penning three tracks that definitely lean towards the hippie/folk end of things. Not so much with jammy wankery so much as with relentless sunshiny positivity and sunbaked Jimmie Dale Gilmore/Joe Ely Texas philosophizing that comes off a little saccharine to these jaded NYC ears. I can’t say that the songs aren’t good, as that is far from the truth, but I definitely prefer my songs with a little bit more of an edge.
My issues aside, it would take a more brazen man than myself to dispute the fact that Wings is both well-written and well-recorded. I hate to dwell on the “M” word, but this is undoubtedly a mature work. Rock, folk, and country-leaning songs appear on Wings, but you can also rest assured that the soul music of Kimbrough’s Alabama roots does not go untapped. Both the smolderingly spartan “Love To Spare” and “It Ain’t Cool” display a sweaty soultry vibe not unlike Lambchop. You can’t deny Kimbrough’s versatility, but his voice is especially nice when paired with the handful of females that he introduces to the mix. In fact, there is a whole lot of female energy in Wings. Seven of the ten tracks feature female guests, and “Let Me Be Your Frame” is the real standout. The track pairs our hero with Dawn Kinnard, who lends her husky rasp in the same wonderful fashion she has her pairings with Ed Harcourt and Jason Mraz previously. The contrast in voices is striking and speaks strongly to the idea that Kimbrough and Wings would do well to add more edge to the proceedings, as the laconic JJ Cale vibe that permeates the record might be a little too laid-back for its own good.
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