If you hang around the Chattanooga music scene long enough, you’ll begin to notice a few names that always seem to be mentioned when it comes to musicians who keep the entire rhythmic mechanism moving along smoothly. Be it musician, organizer or other patron saint, these people understand the necessity of hard work and persistence in keeping the music alive in the Scenic City. Right in the thick of those names is Jonathan Wimpee, a guitarist whose influence and experience can be traced to a solid chunk of the current sounds emanating from the city’s heart.
Wimpee is incapable of being pigeonholed into a single genre or aesthetic—his work branches out across a handful of musical disciplines. Drawing on the roar and shuffle of rock, blues, folk, reggae, funk and jazz, his contributions to the Chattanooga music scene are immense, whether they be in smaller session roles or standing front stage with a band. And he’s always in demand, having performed with bands Milele Roots, Molly Maguires, Noise Kings and a dozen others who are aware of his chameleonic ability to lose himself in whatever sounds he happens to be playing.
Recently, however, we finally got the chance to hear what a Wimpee solo record would sound like (after all this time, it seems like he should already have a couple of them under his belt), and to say that his debut album, “State of Mind,” perfectly encapsulates his expansive musical aptitude is a gross understatement. These songs allow him to filter his enormous wealth of influences into a broad but cohesive musical statement, one that gives both his voice and guitar the room they need to bloom and evolve under our mesmerized gaze.
Corralling some of the best musicians in Chattanooga to serve as his backing band, he’s put together an all-star lineup that includes Jack Kirton, Jessica Nunn, Brett Nolan, Marcus White, Ivan Garcia, Sean Tyler Southern, Danimal Pinson, Tyler Reddick and countless others who’re ready to pay him back for the musical kindness that he’s shown them in the past, even if he never actually played with them before. It’s an astonishing roster, but in all honesty, it’s to be expected when we’re talking about someone like Wimpee.
Opening with the groove-tastic funkiness of “How I Feel,” the record quickly establishes that no sound is off-limits; the song shakes like some lost Steely Dan gem. Other tracks such as “Dig,” with its tropical jazz rhythms, and “Walking in the Rain,” a robust Americana outing with storms brewing in the background, cement this idea of rhythmic capriciousness. Using his expressive voice and sauntering guitar work to highlight the interior movements of his songs, Wimpee makes complex ideas seem relatable while simple ideas blossom into cavernous emotional catharses. If you want to hear the sound of Chattanooga’s heartbeat, just listen to “State of Mind,” and you’ll recognize that familiar thump in your ears.
Joshua Pickard covers local and national music, film and other aspects of pop culture. You can contact him on Facebook, Twitter or by email. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.