Robert Kimbrough, Sr – Willey Woot
12 songs – 75 minutes
Willey Woot is the first release as a band-leader by Robert Kimbrough, Sr., the youngest son of the late Mississippi Hill Country blues legend, Junior Kimbrough. The title is a reference to Junior’s nickname for his son and Kimbrough explains in the liner notes that the album is “a mix of songs from my previous CDs in the Cotton Patch Blues style that I was raised on”. To be fair, however, Willey Woot is a little more than that. It is also one of the most exciting and invigorating albums to have crossed this reviewer’s desk for some time.
Like his father’s hypnotic, poly-rhythmic music, Kimbrough, Sr.’s songs rely on irresistible rhythms and subtle musicianship rather than complex chord changes or gymnastic techniques. The tracks also reveal a heavy soul influence (particularly in the likes of “It’s Yo’ World” or “Battlefield”) as well as some knowing nods to Jimi Hendrix and Buddy Guy in the wild solos of “Jodi”, “Ride 2 The Blues” and “Girl Is Gone”. The magnificent rhythm section of Artemus LeSueur and Jim Hall deserve great credit for setting up and maintaining some serious grooves, but on tracks like “Old Man Is Gone”, Kimbrough sets up that kind of groove by himself with just a single, simple repeated guitar riff, pulled-off notes and a strummed chord letting his gospel-tinged voice float over the top.
Once the band lands on a groove, it is happy to stay there. The shortest song is over four and a half minutes long and two tracks stretch over eight minutes in length. It is testament to the quality of the musicians however that no number over-stays its welcome. “Packing Up”, as an example, starts out as a deceptively simple one chord shuffle but, as it progresses, the players introduce exquisitely understated variations around the main theme, constantly challenging both themselves and the listener.
Kimbrough’s powerfully seductive voice is a highlight of tracks such as the deep soul-blues of “U Better Run” but he is also a fine guitar player, laying down a series of solos and fills throughout the album that keep the listener guessing and intrigued. On “Runnin’ Yo’ Mouth On Me” his guitar tone switches from a crystalline Strat-like tone in the verses to an over-driven rock tone for the solo, making the switch back to the clean sound all the more effective.
The CD cover refers to guest appearances from David Kimbrough, Kenny Kimbrough and Duwayne Burnside, but it is not clear in which songs they feature. Recorded at Como Studios, Burkhead Studios and AO Studios, there is a consistency of approach and style that actually sounds like it was recorded in one sitting, live to tape, with musicians dropping in and out from song to song.
There is a deep emotional honesty to the music on Willey Woot, but there is also a rawness and genuine authenticity to the entire album that is striking. If you want to re-create in your living room or your car the sound of a Holly Springs juke joint on a late Saturday night (replete with tuning issues on one guitar in the closing “View That Remains”), you need to grab yourself a copy of Willey Woot. Highly recommended.