Brigitte DeMeyer & Will Kimbrough – Mockingbird Soul (Album Review)
FEBRUARY 10, 2017 IN ACOUSTIC, ALBUM REVIEWS, AMERICANA, COUNTRY, BLUES
Brigitte DeMeyer & Will Kimbrough’s first collaborations began some 6 years ago (first on DeMeyer’s 2011 release, Rose of Jericho and Savannah Road in 2014), while continuing to forge successful solo careers themselves. Brigitte DeMeyer’s work has received very favourable reviews comparing her blues-folk-rock to early Bonnie Raitt and Sheryl Crow with the gutsiness of Little Feat’s initial outings. She has opened for Bob Dylan and toured with John Mayall. Similarly, Will Kimbrough’s solo and band work has been championed by critics both sides of the Atlantic with vocal, lyrical and style comparisons to John Lennon, Billy Joel, George Harrison and Neil Flynn to mention just a few. He has toured and collaborated with the likes of Todd Snider and Emmylou Harris. DeMeyer and Kimbrough’s career path together has seen them hone their song-crafting skills, showcasing their talents across North America and Europe. Based in Nashville, this is their first album as an official duo and brings their love of, and influences from blues, gospel, early jazz and country music together; “the good stuff” as Kimbrough calls it. DeMeyer characterises their seamless blend as acoustic soul.
The album opener, ‘Everything’, is a gentle lullaby. A beautiful song of longing and lazy summer days. The perfect union of DeMeyer and Kimbrough’s voices conjures up comparisons with Robert Plant and Alison Krauss on ‘Raising Sands’ and the ethereal vocal melt of The Staves. “River and wood and dirt and sun. Stringing them all up together as one” firmly seats this track in its Nashville origins. The riff invokes travel on a lazy river, of drifting by and treasuring time; holding on to the intangible feeling of contentment. “All you are to me is everything…” The feel of the track is one of a real sense of familiarity, a good friend in whose company you are completely at ease.
‘Broken Fences’ begins with breathtaking fingerpicking. Kimbrough takes the vocal lead, harmonised by DeMeyer. The lyric explores metaphors for life’s mistakes or errors and finding a route to success by mending it “til’ the gate swings right again.” A real sense of taking life by the scruff of the neck, while navigating the splinters it throws at you. It has the feel of a firm favourite in live sets. As does ‘The Juke’, an ode to the Jukebox and the joy of a crackling, well loved, 45 really getting the party started. The infectious double bass riff provides the foundation to the band’s sound of pre or after show skiffle. Kimbrough’s harmonica soars, driving the blues which oozes from the track. There are echoes of ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ by Johnny Cash and it could easily appear in Clapton’s ‘Unplugged’ set.
‘Running Around’ has shades of ‘Mother Nature’s Son’ in the opening, which gives way to the sort of rhythm and guitar lick you could kick off your line dancing shoes to. Written by Kimbrough, it is the story of a nighthawk and their bid to stay asleep following a busy night of antics. ‘Mockingbird Soul’, the album’s titular track, has a blues fuelled doodle of an introduction which breaks into a stripped back accompaniment for the strong, soulful lead vocals from DeMeyer to take centre stage. Backed by gentle harmonies, the lyric is a heartfelt lament to the bird of the title, being true to oneself and savouring your first love. There is a dreamy lapping rhythm to the song similar to that of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Albatross’.
‘Rainy Day’ features an upright bass solo from Chris Wood, who also provides percussion on the track. The listener can really feel the searing heat in the moments before a thunderous downpour. The simple but evocative shake of a tambourine by Micol Davis, creates the audible impression of a rattlesnake, irritated by the aridity. The song is a funky blues workout, the rain washing the parched soul of the land and giving life back to the terrain. In contrast, ‘Little Easy’ returns focus squarely on the perfectly blended voices of DeMeyer and Kimbrough. The sweet acoustic simplicity of ‘Little Easy’ delivers a very special kind of tenderness, which is rarely achieved. DeMeyer and Kimbrough make it seem effortless; think ‘Falling Slowly’ by Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova or ‘I Remember’ by Damien Rice & Lisa Hannigan. A standout track.
‘I Can Hear Your Voice’ has an opening riff which has shades of Johnny Flynn’s theme to ‘Detectorists’ and David Ogilvy’s ‘Watch Me Fly’ but takes things in a very different direction. Lyrically the song depicts the total devotion of one person to another, with every fibre of their being. The longing for an unrequited love and the hope of making things different this time round. The rhythm of the song conjures a train running on a track; evoking the long journey to this point in the protagonist’s story. Short, but sweet.
In contrast ‘Honey Bee’ has the feeling of a lost song from the score of ‘Chicago’, with the soul and grit to match but with a wink of humour. DeMeyer’s sultry vocal delivery draws comparisons to Diana Krall’s version of ‘Peel Me A Grape’ and Jessica Rabbit’s take on ‘Why Don’t You Do Right?’ This is followed by ’Carpet Bagger’s Lullaby’, a real story of a song. The subject is weary traveller who has travel tales a plenty and the ‘leathered hands’ to match. Additional vocals are provided by Oliver Wood.
‘Until Then’ is suggestive of a youthful sense of late childhood adventure, infatuation (“Until then I’ll see you in my dreams”), desire and devotion (“There’s a place for you I keep within…”). DeMeyer provides a stirring lead vocal. The album closes with ‘October Song’, which neatly bookends the collection with the opener ‘Everything’. This final track has a skiffle style opening with stunning fingerpicking. Lyrically it deals with seeking happiness and pleasure, the frustration of time slipping past versus carefree enjoyment of what life has in store.
DeMeyer and Kimbrough are old friends and this collection of songs and the themes that run through them, are testament to that. As DeMeyer says herself in interview “It’s just two really good friends who love to play music together, and have chemistry doin’ it” On the strength of this remarkable collaboration as a duo, we can only hope this will be the first of many. A treasure trove of an album to be savoured and shared with friends.
Review by Jon Amer.