Thursday, August 02, 2012

Keith B Brown Possesses Delta Soul

Some may remember Wim Wenders film, The Soul of The Man, that was part of the PBS series, Martin Scorcese Presents The Blues. This particular film focused on the music of Blind Willie Johnson, Skip James and J.B. Lenoir and included scenes where actors portrayed Johnson and James while lip syncing to the legends’ recordings. Keith B. Brown, who portrayed Skip James in the film, comes from a family of sharecroppers and was born in Memphis. He graduated college magna cum laude and was playing music when he first heard a Muddy Waters’ Library of Congress recording that led him to search and discover his delta musical roots.

Discovering the music of Son House, this led him to Robert Johnson, and then Bukka White, Skip James, Furry Lewis and Fred McDowell. He started playing on Beale Street and then festivals and clubs. In 1998, Keith finished second in the Blues Foundation’s International Blues Challenge and was recorded for a Robert Johnson tribute album and played Son House in a movie on Robert Johnson before being selected to portray James in Wenders’ film. Delta Soul (Juna Music/Raisin Music) is his latest cd and has him interpret classics from Son House, Skip James, Fred McDowell, Robert Johnson and Blind Lemon Jefferson and perform originals.

Reworking Son House or Skip James, he evokes these blues legends while avoiding being a copyist. His interpretations of James’ Hard Time Killing Floor, Cypress Grove and Illinois Blues, are splendid. He plays a very deliberate guitar that suits the falsetto he employs that lends these performances an ethereal feel. He ably interprets the Son House/Charlie Patton tradition on Shetland Pony, which his crisply delivered percussive guitar and shouted vocals, and also able tackles Blind lemon Jefferson’s Easy Rider, masterfully interpreting a blues from a very different blues tradition.

His originals, All I Need and Didn’t Come Today, have a bit of a wistful character, while the field holler delivery of Niggers and Rednecks lends particular force to his lyric. These are just some of the pleasures to be heard on this wonderful disc of acoustic blues. It may be hard to find this today (2012), but it is worth hunting down.

This review appeared in the November 2005 issue of the DC Blues Calendar, then the DC Blues Society newsletter. I have revised this review to reflect it may be difficult to find today. I have seen it on ebay. Keith B Brown has made some further recordings that I have not heard. I do not recall if I received a review copy or purchased this.

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