What's wrong with this picture? That's the musical question that kicks off Twisted Roots, the tuneful, timely and thought-provoking new CD by roots-rock singer / songwriter / guitarist John Kimsey. The songs on Twisted Roots are both strikingly original and steeped in tradition -- specifically, Southern roots music traditions like blues, jump, rockabilly and country. With supple touch and incisive wit, Kimsey bends such roots music styles into boundary-blurring explorations of the underside of the American dream. From the razor-sharp satire of 'Talking Talk Radio' and 'Alibi Club,' to the (upside) down-from-the-mountain strangeness of 'Mole in the Ground' and 'Monkey Trial,' to the string-pulling protest of 'Somewhere A Guitar' and 'Good Morning Mr. Lomax,' to the soulful vision of 'Lydia,' 'Dog Eat Dog Eat Dog' and 'How Can I Keep From Singing,' the album bristles with wry humor, yearning emotion and startling insight. Initial inspiration for the project came from a photo taken at the 1989 inaugural party for then-President George H. W. Bush. The snapshot shows Bush and his take-no-prisoners campaign manager, Lee Atwater, posing down with electric guitars in front of an all-star R&B band -- a band which the South Carolina-born Atwater, a former R&B guitarist, assembled for the occasion. Some found this image -- of powerful white politicians mugging in front of brilliant black musicians -- troubling, particularly given the boost that the 1988 Bush campaign received from a race-baiting series of TV ads centering on black convict Willie Horton. When he came aross the photo a few years later, Kimsey -- a Tennessee native who has recorded widely, performed alongside legends like New Orleans' Dr. John, and been nominated Best Guitarist in the Chicago Musician awards -- was struck: 'When I saw that photo, my response meter pegged out at the fear-and-loathing end of the emotional spectrum. It was like a map of the American political landscape, with all these creepy fault lines exposed. So I started to write songs which used the language of roots music to talk about some of the underlying implications -- both ridiculous and disturbing -- of that scene. And the project blossomed from there.' The resulting song cycle has been described by music critic David Simpson as follows: 'Do you like Dylan, Ry Cooder, Mose Allison? Fiddle music, Delta blues, Dixie rockabilly, Steely Dan? -- all mixed together with a shot or two of Tom Waits, Frank Zappa, Molly Ivins and Mark Twain? Then you will love Twisted Roots, a wonderful blend of lyricism and political satire and a bona fide work of American art.' Or, in the words of veteran Chicago producer/engineer Blaise Barton, Twisted Roots is an album of 'heartbreaking music.'
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