Friday, October 19, 2007
Big Brown's Blues
There have been so many examples of blues artists who produced a small number of recordings whose recordings were highly prized by those who heard them but never reach the more general acclaim that their music deserves. Its been over twenty years since singer-guitarist Andrew Brown passed away after recording some excellent 45s, several tracks for Alligator’s Living Chicago Blues series and two superb albums for Dutch Labels that I do not believe have been issued on CD. The Dutch Black Magic label has made almost all of Brown’s recordings available (the issued Alligator tracks excluded) on a wonderful limited edition reissue, Big Brown Blues. Packed in a book sized package, the contents of the two discs include his issued 4s for the U.S.A, 4 Brothers and Brave label and a pair of unissued titled from Brave; two unissued songs from the sessions used for the Living Chicago Blues series; the contents of his Black Magic and Double Trouble CDs and three demos recorded at Andrew’s basement. The booklet contains a bio from Bill Dahl and producer Dick Shurman’s recollections of Andrew and his music. As Shurman observes, “Musically, Andrew was accomplished, powerful, soulful and versatile.”
Influences on Brown include B.B. King, Lowell Fulson and T-Bone Walker, but in listening to these, his music struck me as very similar to that of the late Little Milton, which is evident in the wonderful treatment of Milton’s Losing Hand that is the first track on the second disc. It is more a matter of similarities in the voices and common influences. Like Milton, Brown was not only a fleet guitarist, but also a wonderful songwriter. Magic Sam covered Brown’s USA 45, You Better Stop, but there are any number of strong modern urban blues with sophisticated lyrics, sung with heart, while his guitar playing embellished, not overwhelmed, his vocals. He moves from a rocking shuffle like No More Talking to the blues ballad Your Love is Important to Me, then taking up a funk groove on Mary Jane. Dick Shurman had him cover some songs on the two albums with Tin Pan Alley, perhaps the best known song that he makes his own, but other songs covered include his terrific take on James ‘Thunderbird’ Davis’ Blue Monday, Joe Tex’s I Want to Do (Everything For You), and a Bobby Bland classic, Lead Me On. A few numbers are a bit more directed towards the straight soul market, but are also delivered so convincingly.
Having Brown’s two albums and even a 4 Brothers 45, I am delighted to have this wonderful reissue available by a person who should be much better known among a broader range of blues fans. His ‘mellow’ blues styling is akin to such other neglected past blues masters Mighty Joe Young and Fenton Robinson and is better than a lot of what is purported to be blues today. This is a limited edition and I recommend checking the better mail order specialists like BlueBeat Music to get this gem while you can. It is also available directly from Black Magic Records.