It may come as a surprise to many people, even those who consider themselves fans of the respective artists, that Will Kimbrough and Brigitte DeMeyer are just now making their first album. After randomly meeting in 2009 when booked as solo artists on a Music City Roots bill, the pair quickly formed a friendship, have toured the United States and Europe extensively, and have collaborated on each other's solo works. But Mockingbird Soul, releasing Jan. 27, is their first official work as a duo.
On the surface, they seem like a musical odd couple. DeMeyer is the California-bred late bloomer who didn't start writing music until her mid-20s. Kimbrough is the Alabama-born long time Nashville fixture who has been shaping Music City's modern Americana scene since the mid-'80s with groups like Will & the Bushmen, The Bisquits, Daddy, and Willie Sugarcapps as well as his production and instrumental work with everyone from Jimmy Buffett to Todd Snider to Emmylou Harris. But the pair bonded over their broad love of what Kimbrough calls “the good stuff”, ranging from Mavis Staples to Big Star to The Beatles.
On Mockingbird Soul, Kimbrough and DeMeyer manage to filter all of those diverse influences through their own strong harmonies to create an album that is both wide-ranging and cohesive. On the whole, it's an intentionally spare album. The majority of tracks are just two voices, Kimbrough's always outstanding acoustic guitar work, and some light bass and percussion work from Chris Donohue. Mockingbird Soul is its best in those quiet moments when a note holds, a voice fades, or a harmony lingers.
Of course, all those quiet reflective moments would be wasted without some great lyrics to reflect on. Fortunately, there is no shortage of that on Mockingbird Soul. In addition to their musical symbiosis, Kimbrough and DeMeyer were also drawn together by their literary songwriting style. That ability to paint large literary pictures in just a few words is best displayed on the album's standout track “Broken Fences.” In a time when America is more divided politically, socially, and culturally than ever before, lines like “make me rich if rich means free, broken fences shall I mend, 'til the gate swings right again” are more necessary than ever before.
The other major effect of the album's spare production is that it draws attention to the rare moments when more is going on. Such is the case with the pair of songs featuring The Wood Brothers. On “Rainy Day”, Chris Wood's upright bass rings out loud and clear, giving the song a soulful blues smolder. Brother Oliver Wood co-wrote the song “Carpet Bagger's Lullaby” and his harmony, the only voice on the album not belonging to Kimbrough or DeMeyer, comes near the end of Mockingbird Soul's runtime, offering a pleasant moment of surprise.
Unsurprisingly, given their long history of collaboration, Mockingbird Soul comes together sounding nothing like a debut album. Kimbrough and DeMeyer's voices are perfectly blended and the single acoustic guitar gives the entire album the feel of a living room guitar pull, if your house guests happened to be some of the most talented musicians in Nashville. It's a shame it took them this long to make their musical partnership official because, if Mockingbird Soul is an example, the years between their first collaboration and this album left the Americana community missing out.