A BLUE STATE JUKEBOX REVIEW
by Tony Peyser
Will Kimbrough's Americanitis
Will Kimbrough is a piece of work.
The Mobile-born, longtime Nashville resident is an especially gifted guitarist who's played with cream of the crop folks like Rodney Crowell, Lyle Lovett, Guy Clark and Joe Ely. He produces, too, including East Nashville Skyline by Todd Snider, who's as close as we may get to the new John Prine.
"I used to sleep til half past noon
Paid no attention to the time
I'd pop a beer and watch cartoons
I was twenty nine."
(This proves the currently postulated belief that thirty is the new twenty.)
"Time passed like a fog
And the next thing that I knew
I was married, husband, father
The awakening was rude
I'm a grown up now
And I've got better things to do
Than waste my time on party girls like you
I've got obligations
I've got plans and meetings, too
I've got planes to catch, socks to match
Expensive liquor down the hatch
It's true. I've got things to do
I'm a grown up now."
Like Prine's "Crazy As A Loon" --- which you may recall I reviewed in this space --- Kimbrough's addressing the perils of selling out. The song has such a breezy way about it that I could have sworn that papers blew off my desk the first time I played it. It's a laid back ode to all things nine-to-five and getting paid back in ways you don't anticipate. It also offers this warning and benediction: May The Outsource Be With You.
Kimbrough tackles a number of political issues on his latest release, most of which have a gentle slide to them musically, which makes them all the more sinister. Republicans who listen to Americanitis may tap their country club golf shoes a while before they realize they're not in on the joke here but the punch line. That's surely the case with graceful album opener:
Because I can.
It's the pleasure and the privilege
Of the richest people in the land.
Don't you understand?"
Kimbrough then cranks up the venom (is venom crankable?) just a tad:
"I don't give a damn for you
I don't give a damn for you
That's the truth
I lie because I can."
"I Lie" is the kind of song Randy Newman could have written or Terry Allen, his Lubbock counterpart. It's unembarrassed and brazenly unapologetic, kind of like the last six years of this administration.
"Less Polite" is set to a less leisurely pace as Kimbrough makes his points more pointedly:
"I'm trying to be less polite
I'm fed up with the Christian wrong
Let the people marry
Tell me why you are so worried
Let me sing it to you in this song."
This track has cheery Billy Joel vibe to it but I don't mean that in a tree-crashing, drunk-driving, guess-I-have-to-go-back-to-rehab kinda way.
In a somewhat slower but undeniably similar vein is the album's ninth track. To induce a child-like innocence into this deeply jaded song, Kimbrough deploys a toy xylophone from the get-go. In the first verse, he sings about an Enron-esque corporate crook who gets caught but hopes for the best with this impossibly upbeat chorus:
"Act like nothing's wrong
Everything's just fine
Hold your head up high and act like
You don't really mind
If you're terrified like me
Of terrorists and crime
Please take my advice
And simply act like nothing's wrong."
Maybe Tom DeLay listened to this Kimbrough song before his beatific mug shot was snapped. You'll sing along, too, until you wince and realize this has been the unholy Bush scripture since 2000. But with the way the war polls are looking, the right wingers may not be atop the charts much longer. This song portrays Kimbrough's various musical and songwriting talents at their cheeky best.
The biggest change of pace here is "Pride," a somber, virtually spoken word song that the very well-known T Bone Burnett or the should-be-better-known Chuck Prophet might've written:
"I liked those ‘Who Would Jesus Bomb?' lapel pins
When did pride get crossed off the list of deadly sins?"
Later in the song, you've got to love it when Kimbrough suggests actually reading what Jesus said and, for that matter, tossing in a little Buddha and Johnny Cash. If Kimbrough ever wanted to start a religion, those guys would no doubt be his Holy Trinity.
"Life" plays like Will Kimbrough 101, tying together various themes from all his songs here in a rollicking fashion:
"They all want to see who's got the biggest gun
All these cowboys want to have their fun ...
Well, we think that we're so clever
Flying without feathers
But we can't control the weather
Better send in the Marines."
That weather line plays especially well in this hottest summer in decades. The big weapon talk and unnecessary troop deployment further show how Kimbrough can take his hands of his instruments and feel the pulse of a nation.
In the opening line, I referred to the subject of this month's column as a piece of work. "Piece Of Work," as it so happens, is a boisterous, rambunctious, grin-inducing song that Jimmy Buffet recorded and often plays in concert. It also happens to have been written by Will Kimbrough.
A BLUE STATE JUKEBOX REVIEW
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