Josh Kimbrough: Yule Chime EP


[Tompkins Square; Dec. 11]

Interpretation has always been woven into the fingerstyle guitar tradition. The work of artists like the late John Fahey—probably the best-known representative of the style broadly known as “American primitive”—drew from influences as diverse as folk, blues, and Indian raga. Some of his best-known arrangements were simply variations on others.

The holidays, of course, present no shortage of source material, something Fahey realized when he released 1968’s The New Possibility, a collection of Christmas songs arranged for solo guitar that remains his best-selling work. Following in the footsteps of that album, Chapel Hill’s Josh Kimbrough soundtracks the winter season with the Yule Chime EP, a follow-up to June’s excellent Slither, Soar & Disappear. The new release features two original compositions alongside three Christmas standards, each recorded with the raw intimacy that is so characteristic of American primitive guitar.

Kimbrough’s playing has a way of teetering on the line between the familiar and foreign. On standards like “Good King Wenceslas” and the gorgeous “Once in Royal David’s City,” the melodies are instantly recognizable, yet cloaked in enough unusual detail—the dissonance produced by the droning pedal tone of a bass line, an occasional flourish of ringing harmonics, a brief hesitation between phrases—to make these old hymns feel fresh. Occasionally, Kimbrough is accompanied by lap steel or a whistling drone, but his acoustic guitar work always remains the focus.

There is an organic, deliberate sense of timing to these arrangements that, like the subtle squeak of fingers against a fretboard, conveys a closeness and warmth befitting the season. In the long tradition of reinterpreting Christmas classics, Yule Chime is a welcome addition. 

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