Listen to this song, a slice of primal, primordial blues echoing down from the ages and from across continents. It’s late-blooming recording artist, and well-traveled bluesman Junior Kimbrough’s “I Cried Last Night” as taken from his 1998 record God Knows I Tried.
David ‘Junior’ Kimbrough hailed from North Mississippi, part of a veritable hotbed of high-profile blues talent that came out of the 1990s such as The North Mississippi All-Stars, and R.L Burnside. Kimbrough had a long regional career in the area, with good many of his previous recordings being singles, recorded sparingly in the 60s. Besides this limited time in recording studios, there weren’t many opportunities to build momentum as a consistent recording artist. In the 70s and 80s, he toured local juke joints, but had yet to lay down a full-length album.
It wasn’t until he was discovered in the late 80s by critic, producer and impresario Robert Palmer. His first album was recorded on the Fat Possum label in 1992. His music gained attention of rock bands as well as blues fans, with British band Gomez recording Kimbrough’s ‘Meet Me In the City’ on their 2004 Split the Difference album. “I Cried Last Night” (borrowing a riff from from Willie Cobb’s “You Don’t Love Me”), and the record it is featured on, was his last hurrah, before dying of a heart attack the year it came out, not before recording six albums. He was 68.
Like John Lee Hooker, Kimbrough’s music shows a clear and shining path back to places like Mali, where the blues was arguably first conceived, if not christened. And like the best of the blues, it is evocative and otherworldly, evoking a sort of mythical shorthand for emotional connectedness that is attached to the darker corners of the human psyche. But, this is what the blues does best. It’s encapsulates raw emotions, viscerally, and without artifice, crossing cultural barriers with ease.
Like a lot of African music, Kimbrough’s approach to the blues puts emphasis on the drone, with the guitars winding hypnotically in and out of the steady, interlocking rhythm. Kimbrough’s voice is muddy, indecipherable in places. It might as well be in another language. And perhaps in some way it is.
For more information, check out the Junior Kimbrough MySpace page.