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A Look Back At a Blues Great

Junior Kimbrough

Junior Kimbrough - You Better Run: The Essential Junior Kimbrough
(Fat Possum Records)
4 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: Oct. 21, 2002

By Tony Bonyata

On their latest release, You Better Run, Fat Possum Records has handpicked a mere dozen songs to represent the best of Mississippi bluesman Junior Kimbrough. And while this short songlist may seem somewhat of a disservice to one of the late great Mississippi bluesmen, it instead stands as strong testament to the power of his art.
Born and raised in Hudsonville, Mississippi Kimbrough learned how to play guitar by listening to the gritty sounds of blues musicians like Mississippi Fred McDowell. Although he would play his guitar throughout his formidable years, it wasn't until he was 38 that he cut his first record - the single "Tramp" - for the local Philwood label in 1968.
While his recording career was virtually nil in the '70s and '80s, Kimbrough continued to play at numerous juke joints throughout the state. It wasn't until the early '90s that his career began to blossom outside of Mississippi, when he signed with Fat Possum Records and cut his first full-length album All Night Long. Blues historian and author Robert Palmer also added Kimbrough as a main figure in his 1991 documentary Deep Blues, which focused on the current state of blues in it's true place of origins.
On You Better Run the soul of this age-old southern black music is revealed through Kimbrough's simple, yet hypnotic rhythms, earthy vocals and stinging guitar playing. A good majority of the music featured here was recorded in Junior's Juke Joint - one of the most popular juke joints in Mississippi that Kimbrough owned and operated in Chulahoma (unfortunately this mecca for blues lovers burned to the ground just months after Kimbrough's own death in 1998).
From the opening track "Release Me," recorded in 1969, the haunted spirits of the black south are immediately summoned up through Kimbrough's rough-hewed, choppy rhythms and piercing lead guitar lines. While not from the Delta region proper (Hudsonville is located in the northeastern part of the state) much of sounds are derived from the bare-boned sounds that flowed from the Delta during the first half of the last century. Songs such as the repetitive trance-like "All Night Long," "Sad Days Lonely Nights" and "You Better Run" all feature a mesmerizing boogie-shuffle guitar that hearkens back to Delta great John Lee Hooker, while the revved up number "Old Black Mattie" sounds as if Muddy Waters had 'plugged in' but never left Rolling Fork for Chicago.
The songs that best seems to define Kimbrough on this mesmerizing collection, however, are the gut bucket blues of "Keep On Braggin'," a mysterious number which ends with a soul-selling lead guitar solo, and "Tramp," Kimbrough's first record which is updated here from 1996 and proves that Mr. Morganfield wasn't the only bluesman from Mississippi that had his mojo working.

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