Junior Kimbrough All Night Long is an incredible record. It really is all the more remarkable when you consider that when it was made in 1992, it was the 65 year-old’s first LP.
Now Junior had been around since pretty much when God was a boy and as well as influencing a number of the Sun Records session men, he was a towering presence in the North Mississippi blues scene, running his own juke joint outside Holly Springs, Marshall County for more than 30 years. There is a brilliant evocation of the spirit of it all in Robert Palmer’s sleeve notes*, that’s Mr Palmer the producer of this LP and music critic, not the dude who was ‘Addicted to Love’ (first single I ever bought). It’s pretty significant that this LP was recorded at Junior’s Place, making it more of a fabulously produced field recording, capturing Junior Kimbrough and his band The Soul Blues Boys, featuring fellow Fat Possum Records star R.L Burnside’s son on bass and Junior’s own son on drums.
I grew up in a very blues-orientated house, my parents both loved it and although I don’t own vast tranches of it I know and love all the original big-name innovators. Unfortunately my interest got kicked to death in a back alley, decapitated and its corpse urinated upon by all those slick 80’s versions of the blues by people like Robert Cray and Eric Clapton, yeuuchh! So it all went a bit dormant in me. Until I heard Junior Kimbrough’s version of ‘Crawling King Snake’ (which isn’t on this LP) on a Mojo coverdisc and I just couldn’t stop playing the thing, obsessed by the weird, spaced quality of the music immediately put me in mind of John Lee Hooker, but much more so. So springing into action I bought All Night Long about two years later.
The one thing that strikes me above all else is just how African this album sounds. Something about the way that each track starts with a drone sound that shifts into a tune after a while, like a drunk’s eye blurring and focusing on his glass. Take a track like ‘Done Got Old’, it has that hazy, unhurried quality that I’ve always associated with the dessert blues of Malian bands like Tamikrest and Tinariwen. Obviously this is no surprise given the music’s source – both ways, but it is as though Junior Kimbrough somehow became the keeper of the flame, preserving the blues in its most African form. I read somewhere that this is partly a result of him using his thumb to play a continuous drone on the bass string of his guitar and managing to syncopate that with his melody, the end result when you chuck the polyrhythmic backing into the stew is a sound which really does hark back to the blues stylings of a player like Ali Farka Toure. The irony of the fact that all those great Malian and Tuareg players were so influenced by the American blues is not lost on me – it’s like a slow tide washing from continent to continent each time taking some of the, umm, magic sands of music with it, a cross-pollination if you will.
On a track like the opener, ‘Work Me Baby’ all these qualities are foregrounded and Junior’s voice even has a certain muezzin quality to it which just adds to the hypnotic, other-worldly quality of the music; 1992 it may have been but this is music ancient as man. Second track ‘Do The Romp’, sounds positively primeval, an evolutionary call to get jiggy with it, the guitar rumbling along way below anything else happening here, bubbling like a primordial pool. I won’t bother you with the whole track by track, but the sinister creeping ‘You Better Run’, a tale of a woman fleeing an attacker is brilliant, although its sexual politics seem to hail from the late ’20s**.
This is a raw, sweaty, bleeding blues album, if All Night Long pushed past you on the street, you’d be able to smell last night’s stale beer on its jacket. Nothing here has been sanitized at all and that’s why this is such a great LP, why Junior Kimbrough is such a great performer. Various rockers have spent their millions for years trying to sound this authentic, you can’t it would seem, you have to have lived it, as the sleevenotes say paying your dues, playing twice a week for sixteen years in his own place obviously helps. Not that the overall feel of this record is a grubby, muddy one at all, this is music that I find hypnotic and transportive.
Junior Kimbrough died in 1998, leaving behind a few more LPs with some great titles, Most Things Haven’t Worked Out and God Knows I Tried, none of which grab me as tight as this one did, or maybe that’s because this was my first exposure to this music ancient as man.
P.S – This also seems to be the shiniest LP in my whole collection, so I’m afraid the Legoisation is not of the highest quality. Sorry. No, actually I’m not sorry at all – deal with it! Grr!
P.P.S – Anything on Fat Possum records is worth checking out in my experience.
P.P.P.S – Junior Kimbrough’s work has spawned two great cover albums, The Black Keys Chulahoma and Sunday Nights, the latter featuring Iggy & The Stooges, Mark Lanegan and Spiritualized amongst others.
*SLEEVE NOTES!! SLEEVE NOTES!! God I love them!
**The Stooges did no less than two covers of this track in 2005.