REVIEW: Will Kimbrough “Spring Break” Has Wealth of Ingenuity


Will Kimbrough – Spring Break

Award-winning singer-songwriter & Alabama native Will Kimbrough — having had his live shows stalled by COVID-19 took his downtime to work on a 14-cut solo acoustic collection. It documents the challenge of 2020 — “When the world broke, and we all took a break,” as Will stated in a year that changed lives. Will drew inspiration from the circumstances that prevailed: political division, tragic loss & many other imposing aspects. Sung in a confessional style the multi-instrumentalist performs ambitiously with no other musicians.

Spring Break (drops Oct 23 – Daphne Records) includes songs laid down at his home studio that progressed to Nashville. Writing solo & with some co-writer friends. The sound is varied old-fashioned folk & skims the surface of 60s stalwarts such as Fred Neil, Dave Van Ronk, & others who just relied on their guitar & voice.

Throughout Will’s 9 previous solo LPs he always provided a reliable well-toned vocal though not quite as distinctive as a Neil, Van Ronk, or a Dylan. But his voice is always effective & never thin. On a song dedicated to “The Late Great John Prine,” Kimbrough writes & sings in a wonderfully vintage voice that belongs with notables such as Arlo Guthrie, Eric von Schmidt & Eric Andersen.

Will plays admirably (guitar/National guitar/mandolin & harmonica) & writes without being bombastic, stays in lane & follows the traditional folk path with wisdom. What sets him aside from the other singers is a dedication to many past genres that can be hard to navigate.

“All Fall Down,” could easily have been covered by Phil Ochs (as well as “My Right-Wing Friend”) or Townes van Zandt (“Philadelphia, Mississippi” with its Townes saga style perfectly laid down with excellent National guitar). These have a wealth of ingenuity. If Bob Dylan wanted to record a stripped-down acoustic LP with the ambiance of his first LPs Will should produce it. It’s obvious Kimbrough understands the rural sound, the pure protest edge & the downtrodden plight.

In a playful John Hartford style, the Kimbrough-Todd Snider tune “Rocket Fuel” is delightfully simple. Perhaps what’s lacking is a stronger infectious melodic turn – more akin to the late Clifford T Ward & David McWilliams who were masters of melody in folksier tales.

Will approaches Peter Himmelman’s tone on “Trains,” a beautiful harmonica-driven ballad with excellent Kimbrough vocals & songwriting – simple catchy melody. Absorbing storytelling lyrics. If the Band were still together, I’d recommended this song to them.

Where Will excels in vocal styles is when he goes from Himmelman to a potent Woody Guthrie/Ramblin Jack tradition. “Cape Henry” is one such surprise. It’s compelling. “Plow to the End of the Row,” comes off with similar intonation & phrasing as Darius Rucker on “Wagon Wheel.” But the closer “Digging a Ditch with a Spoon” has a warm rural temperature you’d find on an old Alan Lomax field recording or humorous Roger Miller cut. This should be a classic.

The 46-minute independently produced CD is available at Amazon.

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