red lights


Hip rockers pay homage
to late bluesman

Junior Kimbrough

Various Artists - Sunday Nights: The Songs of Junior Kimbrough
(Fat Possum Records)
4 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: Mar. 8, 2005

Review by Tony Bonyata

Just a mile outside of the northern Mississippi town of Chulahoma once stood a little shack. But this was no ordinary shack, this was Junior's Place - a ramshackle juke joint owned and operated by the late blues musician Junior Kimbrough. Before it burned to the ground in 2000 (just months after Kimbrough's own death) Junior's Place on any given Sunday night was a Mecca for blues lovers in the know. Among some of the many famous artists to make the pilgrimage to this rough-hewed shrine included Bono, Iggy Pop and The Rolling Stones, among many others.
Back in 2002 Fat Possum Records released the posthumous You Better Run: The Essential Junior Kimbrough, a stunning collection of the blues musician's strongest and most hypnotizing songs. With many of these harrowing blues numbers (recorded both at Kimbrough's home and his juke joint) you can practically feel the dirt under your feet, while the scent of barbeque smoke and stale whiskey hang heavy in the air.
Now three years later Fat Possum has again assembled many of Kimbrough's best songs on Sunday Nights: The Songs of Junior Kimbrough, only now they've gathered together a contingent of hip admirers - both young and old, to reinterpret these songs their own way. What's interesting is that none of these numbers are performed by traditional blues artists, but instead by indie and garage rock bands, outsider artists and old school punkers.
Kicking things off with a bang is Iggy & Stooges, which finds Iggy Pop reuniting with brothers Ron and Scott Asheton along with former Minuteman bassist Mike Watt for an explosive take of "You Better Run," where The Stooges revisit the heavy rock groove they originally laid down in 1970 for their classic Fun House album.
Modern-day disciples of Iggy, such as Blues Explosion's Jon Spencer with his tomcat howl on "Meet Me In The City" and Jack Oblivian's deep moans on "I'm In Love With You" both offer simple and stripped down arrangements that emphasizes the singers' deep soulful voices. Likewise, Pete Yorn's positive vocal delivery over the spirited "I Feel Good Again" and the playful call-and-response vocals between Entrance and Cat Power that lazily shuffles over a greasy slide guitar on "Do The Romp" gives these numbers a refreshing new life.
In contrast, songs such as Spiritualized's "Sad Days Lonely Nights," Fiery Furnaces' "I'm Leaving" and Jim White's "Done Got Old" all successfully put their own signatures on these numbers without sacrificing the trance-like repetition and southern superstitions that abound on Kimbrough's originals.
Two of the standout tracks are the bone-chilling "My Mind Is Ramblin'" from Fat Possum recording duo The Black Keys and the rowdy "Release Me" from Cincinnati garage rock quintet Thee Shams, who sound eerily familiar to The Rolling Stones pocketing Muddy Waters' mojo hand back in 1964.
The thought of hip rockers taking old blues numbers and transforming them into something all their own is hardly a revelation - considering that this was the foundation that rock & roll was built on. But what this great tribute album proves is that 50 years later it still works like a charm.

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