Brigitte DeMeyer and Will Kimbrough have been singing and playing together for several years. They have collaborated on each other’s records and performed in concert as a tandem. But Mockingbird Hill marks the first time the Nashville-based musicians are co-billed on an official release.
There’s a bit more Kimbrough on this album than there has been on previous discs, but the duo remains essentially the same. DeMeyer’s rich vocals sound steeped in a Southern swampy vibe. One can feel the humidity and Spanish moss dripping from the notes. Her voice dominates when she and Kimbrough harmonize, but he provides the solid ground from which she can fly. The title track works as a fine example of this as DeMeyer praises a bird singing outside her bedroom window with an intonation that resembles the eponymous creature. Kimbrough joins in quietly as a whisper before offering a low-toned counterpoint to the higher pitched DeMeyer. He lets his guitar do most of the talking.
Kimbrough’s acoustic stringed accompaniment is heavily rooted in the country blues so that even when he plays the melodies, he can’t help but also provide a thumping back up to pound the cadences forward. He’s ably aided by Chris Wood on upright bass (on the muggy number “Rainy Day”), and there are a few other artists who lend a hand on a few tracks including Oliver Wood (Chris’s brother and a co-member of the Wood Brothers), who co-wrote and sings on the graceful “Carpet Bagger’s Lullaby.” DeMeyer even strums an eight-string ukulele on one cut, but basically, Kimbrough supplies the instrumentals. He utilizes a vintage Gibson J-45 to give the music a lush yet airy resonance. The guitar’s acoustics reverberate in his hands without a clatter or a tinkle.
When Kimbrough does take the lead on vocals, such as on the disc’s one cover, the Incredible String Band’s ode to the ravages of time, “October Song”, he sings without affection. He delivers the plain but poetic lyrics (i.e., “The fallen leaves that jewel the ground / They know the art of dying”) as statements of fact. It is DeMeyer’s voice that reveals the sadness of time passing. The ache in her throat conveys the change of seasons as something to be mourned instead of celebrated. It may all be part of life’s rich pageant, but that’s no reason to fete the passage of time. Acceptance is the best one can do. Meanwhile, Kimbrough’s complex stringed accompaniment suggests the dour truth. Life is temporary, and like our dreams, all things must pass.
The original material exposes DeMeyer and Kimbrough as resolute artists who observe the world through their five senses. They see, hear, touch and even smell the people and places around them. Rather than think too much about things, they revel in the experience of being and doing. The ideas here are expressed in terms of things, as William Carlos Williams would say. They don’t intentionally use metaphors as much as say what they mean. That’s true in the way they sing and play. DeMeyer’s honeyed vocals and Kimbrough’s intricate fingering are not ornamentation, but representation. The world itself contains its dulcet complexities. Like the Mockingbird’s song, the soul of the world can be revelatory if one only pays attention.