Sunday Nights: The Songs of Junior Kimbrough
(Fat Possum Records)
Spring's explosion of life, its flowers laden with juicy nectar, sending the bees into a frenzy of feeding, baby birds hatching and whatnot is but a tribute to forbearance, showing the hard labors of ones ancestry has borne fruit. I guessing why this spring I am confounded my tribute albums. People are full of juice and ready to sing the songs of them that brung them. As I've said before, they can be slippery slopes - repositories of a labels lesser acts to showcase their wares, good ideas that stop half steam because, well, its not like its the artist's "real' stuff. And then there is the guest of honor. If you are unfamiliar with their lifespan of work (especially the rarities. Tributes are lousy with covers of rarities) you are fucked, stuck with an oddly eclectic mix tape of which you fail to get the point.
Fat Possum, the beacon of light shining forth the blues from a myriad of reverent yet unique acts has bypassed a lot of these failings on "Sunday Nights: The Songs of Junior Kimbrough. " Supposedly Elvis called him the alpha and omega of song or something like that, but to me, he was just a name among that phone book of blues guys I've skipped over. Here you get a stellar lineup of talent making these songs happen, regardless of whether this is an effective history lesson.
Let's hit the guest stars first. Iggy and the reformed Stooges open and close this oyster with two renditions of 'You Better Run" where Ig's chant about rape toward the end is possibly the most distrurbing thing he's put to record, which is no small feat. Plus whatever configuration of Stooges it is, they are excellent, having all the grime and gunk of the original lineup, with the exception of replacing the Nembutal with Geritol. Spiritualized, a band I never could really get into, drop a fantastic menacing stomp "Sad Days Lonely Nights" whereas the Blues Explosion, a band I can't seem to get into any more, delivers a sweet Stonesy acoustic country blues ballad out of "Meet Me in the City." I had written both of these bands off as hipster dross, but I'm guessing I need a closer look now. Pete Yorn, too. Pretty boy Pete tears it up on "I Feel Good Again." The always fabulous Fiery Furnaces get twangy and weird on the oddly compelling "I'm Leaving." ex Screaming Trees hollerer turned folkie Mark Lanegan sounds down right satanic on "All Night Long."
Fat Possum labeleers hold there own on this as well, with the Heartless Bastards kicking in with "Done Got Old" and the greatest band in the world, the Black Keys kick your ass with a scorch-the-earth drag through "My Mind is Rambling." Entrance, recently reviewed in this site, teams up with the spookiest girl in school Cat Power for a sultry "Do The Romp." and neo southern rock destroyers Thee Shams put forth the best ramble on the platter with "Release Me" channelling the Stones at their most shambolic. The raunchiest, grittiest moment goes to Whitey Kirst on "Pull Your Clothes Off" which comes off like you are being sexually harassed by a poltergeist.
I'm still not sure I have a feel for Junior Kimbrough and his apparently highly influential style of blues, but that is no matter. This album runs like a great mix tape, destined to give your next barbecue the element of swampy goodness it needs. Its pretty much klinker free, challenging every artist here to get their strut on and compete like a battle of the bands. The Stooges get the trophy, but that's a given no matter who else is on board. But yeah, history is written by the generals, not the folks in the trenches, So if you want a taste of what kinda blues is goin round in the underbelly of the Modern Rock Condition, this trench runneth over.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com