Junior Kimbrough, You Better Run: The Essential Junior Kimbrough

John Morthland

By John Morthland

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

Kimbrough, who made his first album (though not his first sides) in 1992 and died in 1998, is the most galvanizing — and menacing — of the recently-discovered Mississippi Hill Country bluesmen; he played with a glint in his eyes that seemed both evil and satisfied. Seeing him in person could be as frightening as it was liberating; hearing him on record was only slightly less so. You Better Run gathers the cream of his five Fat Possum albums.

The most menacing of the Mississippi bluesmen

His electrified, one-chord country blues is physical before it is anything else; it pounds simultaneously at the heart and the gut. It is primordial boogie — elemental (but with ornate flourishes), hypnotic, both ancient and rightnow. The sound is both loose and tightly focused. Usually working with just a rhythm section that tries to adapt to and keep up with him, rather than setting the beat, Kimbrough carves out deep one-chord grooves of his own, then elaborates with biting, incisive guitar licks and deeply felt vocalizing. Because the music is so repetitive, many find it monotonous. But such listeners are simply unreceptive to his particular groove; leave yourself open to it and this stuff will envelop you like musical quicksand.

Be it the feverish, nightmarish rape fantasy of the mysterious "You Better Run," the fat, rounded guitar tones of "Meet Me in the City," the jagged, controlled chaos of "Sad Days and Lonely Nights" or the unbridled lust of "All Night Long," Kimbrough has a way of grabbing hold and not letting go. Believe it.