Album review: OLI BROWN – Songs From the Road

Ruf [Release date 14.06.13]

Anyone who has followed Oli Brown’s career so far, will hardly be surprised by the sense of adventure at the heart of this live DVD/CD. For though he was schooled in the blues at an early age, Oli long ago started stretching his musical parameters in an attempt to find his own style.  And it is this sense of stretching a coherent set of spontaneous grooves, deep shuffles and riff driven pieces to his own end, that lies at the heart of this hometown DVD shoot.

More than that, ‘Songs From the Road’ nails the vibrant musical connection that underscores Oli’s lyrical meaning, making him more than just another young kid on the block.

He’s always surrounded himself with young, upwardly mobile musical talent – in this case drummer/producer Wayne Proctor and solid bass man Scott Barnes – and draws on the co-writing talent of Ron Sayer and the invaluable musical and writing experience of producer Mike Vernon.

Oli is also smart enough to tackle covers that accord with his own musical orbit, with Anders Osborne’s ‘Love is Taking Its Toll’, fitting the band particularly well. Al Cooper’s ‘I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know’ (the Donny Hathaway version) also suggests Oli has the maturity to tackle the most emotive ballads.

So much for the bricks and mortar. What sparks the whole set is the band’s willingness to stretch out and see where their tightly wrapped interplay takes them. Led by their heads, Oli’s band seizes the moment and takes a leap of faith, confident in the ability of his band to pull it off.

Thus while the Vernon co-write ‘Speechless’ make the most of a quiet/loud dynamic and a catchy hook, the brooding ‘Manic Bloom’ is rescued from its grunge overkill by an intricately constructed groove. Oli explores some tremulous notes as part of the power trio’s inherent bluster, as Wayne Proctor’s phrasing subtly glues everything together.

There’s actually a moment on the DVD when bassist Scott Barnes takes a couple of steps closer to Oli to complete a perfect triangle of concentration, before the number explodes with the fury of its angry lyrics.

‘Here I Am’, is powered by a stop-start drone and carried by a strained narrative which is counterweighted by a delicate swoop into the chorus, while ‘Next Girl’ by The Black Keys, is a similarly heavy piece and is indicative of his current musical direction

As the set gathers momentum and the band pursues wider musical horizons, there’s a lovely moment on the riff driven ‘Love is Taking its Toll’, when the camera lingers on one of  Oli’s most intense solos, as the band instinctively jams the song to its full potential.

Oli’s material is far from easy, with the complex twists and turns of the lumbering Brown/Sayer composition ‘Mr Wilson’ only rescued by a deep toned meandering solo, while the same duo’s ‘You Can Only Blame Yourself’, would not be out of place on a Gov’t Mule album.

Ultimately this live DVD/CD release invites you step beyond the familiar and enjoy the true spark of a road tested band that does Oli proud. ****

Review by Pete Feenstra

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