Sunday Nights: The Songs of Junior Kimbrough

"Though the world doesn't need another tribute record," Fat Possum founder Matthew Johnson writes on Sunday Nights' back cover, "it does need to know about Junior Kimbrough." A primal force of blues guitar, Kimbrough (who died at 67 in 1998) mined the depths of darkness, conjuring a nakedly raw punk spirit. He was 62 when he recorded his first full-length, All Night Long, later named Blues Album of the Decade by Rolling Stone and embraced by rock royalty: Iggy Pop offered a tour spot, and legend says members of the Rolling Stones, U2, and Sonic Youth all dropped by to pay homage.

Though Sunday Nights suffers the odd indiscretion (most notably Iggy Pop's rendering of rape as a sexual act in "You Better Run"), it's strongest when Kimbrough's material is used as a springboard, not a blueprint. The mantra of "Sad Days, Lonely Nights" survives Spiritualized's feedback overlay and draws a connective line between blues and the Velvet Underground. Blues Explosion delivers the insidious exchange of "Meet Me in the City." And the Fiery Furnaces' innovative, loose-stringed excess on "I'm Leaving" qualifies as stellar guitar work on any measurable scale. Finally, like Kimbrough (who rarely cut a track less than five minutes in length), the Black Keys' distorted take on "My Mind Is Ramblin'" operates at its own pace, finding the riff and committing to it, like a guard dog of furious allegiance protecting the crossroads of blues and rock.


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