There are musicians who carry an impressive resume, laden with sparkling session work and songwriting credits, and yet they never manage to channel that talent into their own work. This certainly does not describe Will Kimbrough. He’s worked with (and written songs for) the likes of Emmylou Harris, John Prine, Little Feat, Kim Richey, Rodney Crowell, Amy Rigby, and Jimmy Buffet. With the release of Sideshow Love, Kimbrough shows that he hasn’t given away his best material. Far from it.
Though the word “tasteful” sometimes seems like a pejorative term in reviews, here the word really does fit. Gloriously so. On songs like “Dance Like Grownups Do,” a plea for the lighter side of romance, Kimbrough’s slide guitar enters as a third character, commenting on the dance that can be performed anywhere. During “I Can Count On You,” Kimbrough sings “When I got lonely, I could count on you,” which he follows with a descending line on the dobro that feels like it’s the musical equivalent of that thought.
Elsewhere, Kimbrough’s takes on the many sides of romance are presented with with humor (“Home Economics”) and grace (“Who Believes In You”). The title track’s hilarious story of a (perhaps?) inappropriate and public romance tumbles out with some terrific circus imagery (“…they seen the pin-headed lady and the two-headed man!”), Lisa Oliver Gray’s sly backing vocals, and a relentlessly greasy groove.
For my ears, the album’s centerpiece is “I Want Too Much.” It’s a country/acoustic musing whose protagonist — Kimbrough? Me? All of us? — admits to the forbidden: wanting more than one person. This is an example of songwriting that can temporarily transform a person, because even though I’m not in this situation (OK, maybe I too “…can’t stop thinking dirty stuff”), it was easy to drop inside the song, becoming somebody else for a time.
Yes, Will Kimbrough has an impressive resume. But forget all of those names, bands, and credits. With a collection of songs this strong, that’s all just a sideshow.
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