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Memphis singer/songwriter Will Kimbrough soars with spirited new folk-pop release 'Wings'



Will Kimbrough with Lucy Kaplansky
9 p.m. Friday
the Blue Door
2805 N. McKinley

Most art doesn't do happy very well. It's probably too close to self-satisfied, the place where creativity goes to die. Certainly for a musician writing an upbeat song, it's hard not to come across as either cloyingly earnest, completely naive or smugly superior.

But if the songs write the performer, as many artists suggest, what's a musician to do? Running isn't an option for Will Kimbrough.

The skilled Memphis, Tenn., sideman and former Bis-quits/Will & the Bushmen front man turned solo artist celebrates his fourth release with last month's "Wings." The buoyant disc opens with the gentle folk-pop of "Three Angels," which imagines his wife and daughters as beatific beings, coyly cracking, "Sometimes in the morning, they're a moody band of angels / Still it's good to have my angels hanging 'round."

This mix of light touch and honest sentiment fuels the 10 tracks, culminating in "A Couple Hundred Miracles," which offers its thanks for every single step, as beneath a gently plucked acoustic he urges carpe diem.

It's upbeat enough to make more jaded souls squirm, and Kimbrough initially did.
"When I do write a happy one, I kind of second-guess myself sometimes," he said. "I put 'Three Angels' away ... but that song kept calling to me in my mind."

The result bubbles with enough affirmation to convince Stuart Smalley to run for Senate. "Wings" evokes a heartening tone that's not simpering, sickening or simplistic.

Kimbrough's in demand as session player and touring lead guitarist. He's developed a reputation for his onstage playing, but remains a steadfast advocate of classic songcraft.

"When I make a record, I like to do what the song needs, and when I play live, I like to bounce things off the audience," he said. "I can play the guitar all day, but at the end of the day, what matters is the song."

Kimbrough has been posting a weekly YouTube series called "Lick of the Day," where he demonstrates how to play the riffs from the songs on "Wings." The first one he did was to "Three Angels," one of two songs on the album that employ Eastern modalities, which he playfully dubbed "country and Eastern" music.

"You have this down-home country feel, but you have a couple of stranger notes that probably I got more than anything from George Harrison and Led Zeppelin. But I have listened to Indian and African music a good deal the last few years," he said.

"Wings" is sort of a continuation for Kimbrough of themes he visited on his second album, 2002's "Home Away." The theme of absence and travel dovetails nicely with the record's grateful, living-in-the-moment spirit. It's not as safe as irony, but it's a lot more comfort.

Because you know, sometimes good things do happen.

"In some circles, it's embarrassing to have positive, happy records," Kimbrough said. "But I don't care." "Chris Parker

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