Doodah Records [Release date 18.11.20]
Kevin Brown’s ‘Strings and A Dream’ is a reminder that somewhere in between the avalanche of PR led American blues bands, there is still room for a major home-grown blues into Americana talent and a quality album that hold its own against most current releases.
Kevin Brown is real blues man who is equally good when he broadens his scope into Americana on a quality album that holds its own against most current releases.
Indeed, Brown has always been a consistent barometer of quality music for many more years than he probably cares to remember. He’s flitted in and out of the roots rock market for nigh on 40 years, since being “discovered by Joe Boyd and subsequently Mark Knopfler.
His first two albums ‘Road Dreams’ and ‘Rust’ carved out an eclectic, but high-quality niche which marks out ‘6 Strings And A Dream’ as being a welcome return to form.
The difference is simply to be found in the passing of time, the accumulation of experience, wisdom and above all song craft, of which there is plenty.
In some ways the world has caught up with Kevin Brown rather than the other way round. He has often been compared to JJ Cale and explored the same kind of emotional vocal nuance as say Jackson Brown, not to mention a deep-seated need to search for meaning and his ability to phrase to that end.
He’s also spent the intervening years researching his heroes, and searching out musical significant places such as Austin and more recently the cotton fields of Clarksdale the birthplace of the blues, which has inspired this album.
It’s all there in the title track, which evokes a historic journey through the delta blues ghosts of yesteryear, taking in Charlie Patton, slide maestro Willie Brown, Son House and Howling Wolf etc.
If Kevin Brown’s lyrics magically illuminate the past, then his deft use of his yearning slide as part of a sparse arrangement gives the number a plaintive feel.
‘Your Train Will Come’ has a joyous rhythmic quality which together with the vocal is reminiscent of Paul Simon, while ‘Square Peg In A Round Hole’ opens with a deft piano line, and is metaphorical journey through alienation and the perennial outsider, well captured on lines such as “He was a square peg in around hole, he was born with no bar code.”
This album is all about capturing a moment and seeing where vibe can take you. There’s a refreshing simplicity to his use of lyrics and phrasing, which act as trigger mechanism to thoughtful songs on which neither a word or note is wasted.
Listen for example, to the long linear clean lines of the shuffle blues ‘Little Grass Shack’ which is an exercise in minimalism, but imbued with emotional warmth.
‘Wake Up & Be Wise’ might be regarded as an archetypal Kevin Brown song. For this reviewer, it sparks almost forgotten musical memories. Yet the moment the combination of a brush stroked rhythms, pedal steel, voice, piano and deft harmonies kicks in, you know it could only be Kevin Brown.
It’s another song that drips with real feel and is delivered with a philosophical bent: “This thing you have might be your last chance, Stand up and take a deep breath, walk on let it rest, wake up and be wise.”
I used to think of Brown as the British equivalent to Ry Cooder, but that view only really focuses on his guitar playing textures and subtle use of evocative tones. On tracks like ‘Square Peg In A Round Hole’ he delves much deeper.
The album counterweights those weightier moments with the simpler, but equally heartfelt and country-tinged ‘High Blood Pressure Blues’, complete with distant pedal steel and percussion.
He also indulges himself in the JJ Cale influenced ‘Shadows On The Wall’ on which his musical lightness of touch is the perfect accompaniment to his wistful lyrics.
He returns to his blues heroes on the closing ‘Clarksdale’, which evokes a time and place: “These are the rocks we stand on, As we stumble and fall, These are the rocks we hang on, As we break down the walls.”
’6 Strings and a Dream’ is a beautifully crafted album full of deep soulful blues, evocative Americana and exquisite playing. And if it’s a tad understated for the contemporary palette, then like all works of great art you have to be a bit more patient and work a little harder to appreciate its depth. *****
Review by Pete Feenstra
The latest Facebook Live session from Canadian singer-songwriter Josh Taerk was streamed on Sunday 22 November.
More about Josh: http://getreadytorock.me.uk/blog/?s=%22Josh+Taerk%22
David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 BST (GMT+1, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 15 November 2020.
UK Blues Broadcaster of the Year (2020) Pete Feenstra presents his weekly Rock & Blues Show on Tuesday at 19:00 ( BST, GMT+1) as part of a five hour blues rock marathon “Tuesday is Bluesday at GRTR!”. The show is repeated on Wednesdays at 22:00, Fridays at 20:00). This show was first broadcast 17 November 2020
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