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Junior Kimbrough, "All Night Long" (1992)


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By Nick Deriso

Recorded not at his own country juke, but in a booming, hollow-sounding church, the late North Mississippi bluesman Junior Kimbrough's debut was ghostly, and vivid.

Why he didn't record it at his house—which became such a popular neighborhood party spot that Kimbrough eventually conceded its nightclub status by putting a “Junior's Place" sign out front—I'll never know.

Still, the surroundings, and the sidemen, give all of “All Night Long" the mythic, American feel of the early Sun Studio work of Elvis Presley or Johnny Cash.

Both rockabilly great Charlie Feathers and Sun sessions player Stan Kesler once said they grew up on Kimbrough, who was from near Hudsonville, Miss. You'll find these guys' names on several Presley tunes, and on the liner notes of “All Night Long."

These echoing chords—not to mention a brash, insistent (but not fast) back beat—imbue the proceedings with that ageless sound of 1950s music. Yet this was entirely new. Feathers said Kimbrough was “the beginning and end of music" for him and, in more ways than one, he wasn't kidding.

Purpled clouds rolled in during one of Kimbrough's sessions, and improbably—or, is that ... appropriately?—lightning struck while recording was taking place. Junior trailed off on the final track, “Slow Lightnin,'" and you could almost smell the ozone.

This thing was scary good. Where-you-been-hiding good. Buy-everything-damn-thing-you-put-out-from-now-on good.

But the sad part was, “All Night Long" (released on Fat Possum when Kimbrough was 62 years old, after years of working at a John Deere dealership) came not at the beginning but too close to the end of things for this lost blues-playing genius.

Kimbrough only made a scant four more albums before he was felled in January 1998 by a heart attack while watching TV on the couch of his longtime girlfriend in a Holly Springs, Miss., public housing project.

In quick succession over those six years, however, he had put out some head-turning masterpieces—starting with this one. All five of Kimbrough's CDs are somehow both chilling and rollicking, and always a boundary-bursting surprise. (He continued, for instance, a complex exploration of African polyrhthyms.)

I don't know how many more Kimbrough had in him, but I'm sorry I didn't get to find out.

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