“Don’t Mess with Texas”.
CSPS Hall has a habit of hosting some of the best acts you’ve probably never heard of, which is both a good and bad thing. It’s a good thing because it means right here in Cedar Rapids, people have a chance to catch some of the best performers in their genre in a wonderfully intimate setting at a terrific price. The bad thing is the “probably never heard of them” part. These performers are so good, they deserve more attention than they are getting at times. It’s simply the nature of the music business that record labels tend to put a lot of money pushing the “A List” acts at the expense of giving lesser known musicians enough exposure to get more people interested in them. Of course, these lesser known performers are often taking the road less traveled musically, and so make music outside the realm of the pop aesthetic that appeals to the unwashed masses.
OK, I think that’s enough cliche’s for now.
Will Kimbrough and Brigitte DeMeyer are truly a Good Thing. They offer an eclectic mix of Blues, Folk-Rock, Country and a wee bit of Jazz that displays a great combination of insightful songwriting with pop appeal. When I say “eclectic mix”, I mean they often combine these styles within the same song. Some performers try this sort of trick and fail. Will and Brigitte not only succeed, but Saturdaynight, August 23rd, they hit it out of the ballpark (*sigh*, another cliché).
Will and Brigitte, although technically solo acts, have toured together regularly, and co-written a number of songs. Even when they are co-writing a song, it’s apparent the song is being written for either Will or Brigitte to perform. The result is differences in style that are often subtle, but offer a testament to each one’s ability to step back and let the other shine on a specific song.
Will’s songs tend to offer a more earthy bluesy flavor and a sense of humor that is both wry and caustic, displayed in songs such as “Sideshow Love”. A catchy ditty about the love affair between two unlikely partners, it takes a common theme “bad boy meets good girl” and places it in an almost ludicrous context of comparing the attention they are getting to a circus side show: yet underneath that surface context is the message “we love each other, can’t you just accept that?”. This song was one of many that had the audience clapping along and laughing at some of the lines.
Brigitte is a bit more “countrified”, but still offers some blues and jazz flavored songs that show off her wonderful vocal flexibility. She is, perhaps, a bit more soulful than Will in expressing herself both lyrically and musically. An example of this from the concert I really liked was “Savannah Road”, the title track off Brigitte’s latest album. An ode about longing to return to the simple pleasures of childhood, the audience sat in mesmerized silence as Brigitte drew each of us into our own world of longing for those times and places to which we can’t return.
The result of their combined efforts is a sort of musical yin and yang, a masculine and feminine balance and tension that transcended expectations. One thing makes their songs and performance such a delight to hear is that Will and Brigitte share the same songwriting muse so much that at times the only way to tell whose album the song was from was who sang lead. That and Will’s guitar playing.
Will is one of those performers that may be classified by the critics as a singer/songwriter, but I found myself equally impressed and entertained by his instrumental chops. Armed with a resonator guitar, he proved himself equally adept at flat picking, finger style and slide, sometimes all three during the same song. Regardless of the style of the song, he could go from subtle back up riffs played finger style to a dazzling flat picked solo with total fluidity.
Brigitte’s “virtuoso instrument” is her voice. She has great control, which lends itself to being able to sing country style one song, blues/jazz another, or mix the two styles in a unique and evocative way. She has enough purity in her voice to make songs like “Savannah Road” appealing as a folk song, but then she can sizzle and growl on a song like “Say Big Poppa”. I could imagine her in a different universe, standing before a grand piano singing torch songs in some smokey bar in Chicago.
The atmosphere at CSPS Hall was perfect for their performance, with the intimacy drawing the audience into a world where two great songwriters work together to create the musical alchemy of combining different styles and perspectives into an enchanted 2 hours of listening pleasure. When they return to CSPS Hall, and I’m sure they will, be sure not to miss them.