Although he’s perhaps better known as a sideman to such luminaries as Emmylou Harris, a collaborator with people like Todd Snider, and a songwriter the likes of Jimmy Buffett, Will Kimbrough has been a busy recording artist for some time. His first solo album in nearly four years proves he’s a distinctive voice on the Americana scene.
He aptly likens Sideshow Love to a book of short stories tracing an arc of love from freshness and hope to disappointment and loss. With a clear voice but a stark, gravelly sound bed, he opens the disc with the bluesy “When Your Loving Comes Around” and the dry, dusty “Let the Big World Spin,” two songs with similar bony melodies. But a playful side emerges with the title track, a carnivalesque trip that brings to mind Leon Russell and conveys the sense two people in love always have that there’s never been a love like theirs before.
A soul-music influence is evident in the gentle, gospel-flavored “Soulfully,” but the dry humor returns with “Home Economics.” (“You ladies get your taste in guys from Cosmopolitan.”) And with that, he’s earned the earnestness of the charming “I Want Too Much,” with the most heartfelt singing on the album. With its rolling guitar-picking, plainspoken melody and clever lyrics, the song is a gem.
The next songs convey a yearning for maturity followed by the crush of love betrayed, then loneliness. “Has Anybody Seen My Heart” has a particularly winsome melody. The elemental “All We Can Do Is Love,” driven by Kimbrough’s banjo, strips the vicissitudes of life to the bone: “I guess all that we can do is live / Try not to do any more harm…Guess all that we can do is laugh.”
“I don’t suppose we’ll get it right,” but “it all begins again,” says the rueful lover of “Who Believes in You,” a mournful tune whose flicker of hope is fanned by the closing number, “Emotion Sickness”: “You’d see the light if you’d only look…You’d better start living or die on the vine…You only need open your eyes.” And this is a set of songs created by an observer with wide-open eyes, along with undeniable talent as singer, instrumentalist, and above all, writer of songs that hook both the mind and the heart. It’s one of the best new Americana releases I’ve heard this year, and will become available Feb. 18.