Album Review

Junior Kimbrough - You Better Run: The Essential Junior Kimbrough

Junior Kimbrough - You Better Run: The Essential Junior Kimbrough

Junior Kimbrough died four years ago at the age of 67. His was not a death by misadventure, but from heart failure after a life of hard work in a region of the country where the median income dips precipitously low and the work days run back-breakingly long. His juke joint in Holly Springs, Mississippi, known simply as Junior's Place, served as the de facto headquarters for a motley assortment rural bluesmen (R.L. Burnside, Asie Payton, T Model Ford, etc.) who all wound up recording for the Fat Possum label in the 1990s. Within a couple years of Kimbrough's death, Junior's Place followed suit, burning to the ground.

Though music coursed through the full of his life, he had recorded only five songs prior to the sessions for his first album, All Night Long, in 1992. This set commences with the rare 1969 single "Release Me", on which Kimbrough is joined by Charlie Feathers. Jumping ahead nearly 25 years, there's a seamless consistency to Kimbrough's approach in every regard. His songs are all slowly undulating grooves -- not the urban boogie of John Lee Hooker, rather the unfolding rhythmic swirls of Africa and the Mississippi Delta.

Electric, but less overtly amped-up than the music of his longtime friend and rival R.L. Burnside, Kimbrough's music oozed danger and sex. It's all deep wants and teeth-clenched insistency. Included here, from his last session, is 1996's "Most Things Haven't Worked Out". The title, adhered to a six-minute instrumental, is what makes this music so relentlessly powerful. As his singing danced between whispers and wails, it shut out every other outside force in his world. It's as if the most sustaining breaths in Junior Kimbrough's life were all recorded during the takes of these dozen songs.