All Night Long
Live from a Juke Joint, the Beginning and End of Music
The blues as it's practiced in the Mississippi hill country is what folklorists call "social music"—it only really comes alive when there are listeners to respond to it, by dancing or hollering or whatever. It doesn't lend itself to the air-conditioned isolation of recording studios. This may be one reason it took so long for the guitarist and singer Junior Kimbrough (1930–1998) to get a hearing: For more than thirty years, Kimbrough performed at weekly house parties and a juke joint he ran in Mississippi. There, he built a reputation for harrowing, trance-inducing electric blues performances. Backed by a bunch of top-shelf musicians who called themselves the Soul Blues Boys, Kimbrough tossed out primordial cries and Memphis soul riffs, hardchomping funk, and marathon wandering drones that one student, the rockabilly pioneer Charlie Feathers, heard as "the beginning and end of music."
Kimbrough's rep didn't spread from the hill country until he was sixty-one, when he and fellow bluesman R. L. Burnside were featured in the 1991 film Deep Blues. This long-overdue debut was recorded in an afternoon at Kimbrough's second juke joint, a former Sanctified church in Holly Springs, Mississippi (the first one burned down); according to the album's producer, music critic Robert Palmer, lightning struck the building during the session, inspiring the rueful "Slow Lightnin'." The first disc issued by the forward-thinking Fat Possum label, All Night Long is a clawing and clattering roar that expands the definition of electric blues. It's scrappier and more introspective than, say, the strutty Chicago style, and illuminated by snakelike guitar lines that wander restlessly along, rarely ending in neat or tidy ways. A glimpse of an iconoclast in as relaxed a "studio" setting as possible, this warm and resonant recording is essential listening for those in search of blues power, undiluted.
Released: 1992, Fat Possum
Key Tracks: "Work Me Baby," "Done Got Old," "All Night Long."
Catalog Choice: Sad Days, Lonely Nights.
Next Stop: Mississippi Fred McDowell: Mississippi Delta Blues, Vols. 1 and 2
After That: Otha Turner: And the Afrossippi Allstars.
Book Pages: 423–424