I first became acquainted with the talents of Will Kimbrough way back in the mid-’80s, when the Mobile, Alabama native would make the drive up to Kentucky from his home base in Nashville with his band, Will and the Bushmen. That first time my friends and I saw them at some now long gone club in Lexington, we thought they were brilliant. They could sound like a Nashville version of Squeeze or XTC or Elvis Costello during the course of a set and the songs were all really good. After The Bushmen called it a day, Kimbrough later formed a band called The Bis-quits with pal Tommy Womack, and recorded one album. Since then, Kimbrough has become the guitar slinger of choice for artists like Kim Richey, Rodney Crowell, and Josh Rouse. And Kimbrough’s 2000 solo debut, This, was one of the understated pop gems of that year.
So the guy should have a lot to celebrate on Home Away. But, it seems he’s also dealing with a lot of issues. “I’m a sweetheart, genius, reckless jerk / Lord have mercy, I’m a piece of work,” he sings on the opening track set to a marching drum beat, slide guitar, and Womack’s harmonica. The Peter Case-like tune is the first song in an album-opening trilogy of self-deprecating numbers. He sings about feeling anachronistic on “This Modern World”: “I’m just an old fashioned boy / Strictly kicking it old school.” But this is modern, mature pop of the first order. “Champion of the World” could have used an infusion of energy but the Randy Newman-like ironic lyricism of the track more than makes up for that. “Well I’m weak and I’m worthless / And I can’t make up my mind / When they handed out ambition / I was next to last in line,” Kimbrough sings, before building up to these lines: “My daddy always told me / I throw a baseball like a girl / but when my baby holds me / I’m the champion of the world.” Kimbrough’s engaging, humble personality shines through, as does his unfailing sense of melody.
Things pick up a bit with the next two tracks, on which Kimbrough is joined by former employer Kim Richey on backing vocals. “Crackup” and “Letdown” are both terrific pop songs. On the latter, he worries that life on the road as guitar slinger and singer-songwriter is taking its toll on his family back home. It=EDs one of the record’s main themes as it turns out. “I’m tired of being a letdown / Tired of hearing the lost and lonely sound / Of your voice on the other end of the line / And being alone,” he sings. Later on the sweet love song “I Love My Baby” we know just what he means when he sings “I leave her shouldering the load / While I’m out wandering the road.” Here Kimbrough gives his voice a John Lennon-like treatment and uses mellotron, cheesy Casio keyboards, a string section, and a hit of rock guitar to complement the piano-based number. Kimbrough wrote “Hey Big Sister” for his daughter as the family prepared for a new addition. And here he sounds more hopeful about getting off the never ending tour and spending time at home. “And maybe we’ll all be together soon / It’s a time to settle in / Unpack the bags / With love to burn / And time to kill,” he sings.
Here’s hoping Kimbrough gets to spend more time with the family and that he can squeeze in a little time to write and record more great songs like those on Home Away.
Waxy Silver Records: http://www.waxysilver.com