Brigitte DeMeyer/Will Kimbrough
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
This stripped-down debut collaboration should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the work of singer-songwriters Brigitte DeMeyer or Will Kimbrough. They have collaborated since meeting in 2009 and have shown in their own work they appreciate the concept of stripping songs and production down to its roots.
Still, this debut linking both voices along with Kimbrough’s generally acoustic (sometimes electric) guitar, stand-up bass, occasional ukulele (from DeMeyer) and Kimbrough’s harmonica with little else is a revelation of sorts. When they harmonize on the deeply emotional opening track, singing “all you are to me is everything,” (is there a more passionate statement?) it’s clear these two were made to sing together. Throughout the next 11 tracks, ten of which are originals, the duo swap lead vocals, swoop their voices together and revel in a sweet, sometimes tough set of gospel-influenced folk, blues, backwoods country and some rock and roll.
The swampy ballad title track is a textbook example of what Kimbrough and DeMeyer are aiming for. She sings with churchy soul atop his stark plugged-in guitar lines (similar to Pops Staples’ less is more approach), and he joins in on the chorus for a bittersweet performance that only the most hard hearted won’t be moved by. Bassist Chris Wood (from the Wood Brothers and Medeski, Martin and Wood) kicks in rubbery, jazzy runs on “Rainy Day” with minimal guitar and rattlesnake percussion to create a near religious experience as the singers join on the chorus of “oh rainy day, pouring down the promise of a better way” with the fervor of a lower-key Delaney and Bonnie.
The twosome have sultry, frisky fun on “Honey Bee” (“I’d be as gentle as a hurricane”), lightening the mood for a song that seems to be written in the 40s and plucked from the Leon Redbone songbook. This is mostly a showcase for DeMeyer whose sumptuous vocals are up front in nearly every track but Kimbrough’s presence is felt. His lead singing and intricate finger picking on the closing cover of the Incredible String Band’s obscure “October Song,” the disc’s only non-original, displays the talents of a sideman whose own solo albums have unfortunately flown under the radar. When he sings “I used to search for happiness/ and I used to follow pleasure/ but I found the door behind my mind/ and that’s the greatest treasure” it’s with a mix of reflection and a deeper understanding of an artist’s psyche.
Both DeMeyer and Kimbrough have released solid and notable, if mostly under-heard, solo work. But this meeting of the minds is a near perfect combination of their individual strengths. At its best, it shows what can be accomplished with just the basics of musical accompaniment and the joining of two like-minded musicians to create a singular musical experience.