Take a boy from Lancashire who fell into the thrall of the blues watching Muddy Waters on a black and white television; add in the years of devoted practise and the remarkable meeting with the legend that is Son House who tutored him in the power of words, the subtlety of picking and the voice of the slide guitar and you begin to appreciate the legacy that Kevin Brown draws on but, importantly, adds to in his writing and performing. If you haven’t heard of him, prepare yourself and your wallet for some expense…this is his fifteenth album, and all of them are worthy additions to a blues collection.
He is also feted by the likes of Mark Knopfler, Albert King and JJ Cale amongst others and from his home in Wiltshire, a houseboat in Clarksdale and a grass hut in Goa (yes, really), his blues is informed by many and varied times, cultures and styles…he is an enigma wrapped in a blanket of blues and, on 6 Strings And A Dream has come up with a blend that has to be heard to be believed…surfing blues Hawaii style amongst others!
Opener, Oh Jackie, is very tropical but when Kevin plays and sings it always carries you to wherever he wishes and this reggae-flavoured rhythm still works as he picks the acoustic but as always when the bottleneck comes into play it rises higher. OK, this isn’t blue blues, but it is infectious and has a charm that is difficult to explain. Little Grass Shack is more traditional with a lilting blues backing with immaculately picked electric injecting its own voice. This is familiar blues but with a new twist as he sings about his own shack on the beach…not exactly ‘woke up this morning’ but the music and lyrics blend seamlessly and the solo is an absolute delight…just enough notes and no flashiness for the sake of it, just emotive, emotional picking of his life in Goa. Wake Up And Be Wise is country blues with lap steel over the light percussion and piano as Kevin dispenses some wise words indeed…the picked acoustic solo is measured, fitting and way too short. This may not be my normal blues preference as I can almost image Dolly doing this…but again, the charm and techniques carry it. Square Peg In A Round Hole moves us into a gentle strummed intro with the piano adding colour before the vocal draws and the lap steel joins in to make you forget about genres. Your Train Will Come is a fascinating melange of styles that is so catchy and complex it will enthral…there is a little reggae, a little tropical and only a tinge of blues…but, dammit, he makes you sit and think ‘I shouldn’t be listening to this, but I love it!’ Any doubts are even further dispelled by a simply brilliant and clever piece of slide playing that echoes the lap steel but in a more striking way.
The title track had my guitar player’s heartstrings on tenterhooks…will it really be Six Strings And A Dream? Well, that is a definite yes…the slide sends shivers and the picking is damnably clever over a very simple bass and percussion. When he mentions Charlie Patton, my hero Son House (Pearline is a must in any blues collection) and other blues masters, you kind of know this is blues of the highest order even if it doesn’t follow ‘normal’ structures…I would buy the album for this alone. Don’t Tailgate Me is something I empathise with after many years of driving the motorways of the UK and it is nice to hear a modern malaise brought to life in a slide driven piece of brilliant blues. A Hammond interjects with sparse and effective slaps and chords but, obviously, it’s the guitars that mesmerise throughout. High Blood Pressure Blues moves back to a countrified slide blues with a modern message wrapped in an older format that has a new edge courtesy of the simple but ridiculously clever percussion. Shadow On The Wall dazzles from the outset with picking on two guitars that have a sound and a feel that always reminds me of the work of Marcel Dadi. That means it needs multiple listen to hear all of the constituent parts properly…and I love having to do that. Clarksdale closes the album as we visit another of Kevin’s homes…this is blues/country with more lap steel and (proper) slide against a tale of the town and its famous residents…Bessie Smith and Sam Cook both get a mention and its fun picking out all of the others.
If you need a pigeonhole, buy a cree! Kevin is a guitarist that brings style aplenty to his music that is always enthralling: the blues are there (my two favourites are pure blues) but the rest, even if at first incongruous, is still quality writ large. Give it a try and discover a wealth of styles and talent in one package.
(PS:- in case you’re wondering, a cree is the purpose-built ‘shed’ for housing pigeons (usually of the racing variety) in my homeland of the North East. My Dad had one although we kept tumblers rather than racers).
NINEdoodle paws out of TEN …
Little Grass Shack
Wake Up And Be Wise
Square Peg In A Round Hole
Your Train Will Come
Six Strings And A Dream
Don’t Tailgate Me
High Blood Pressure Blues
Shadows On The Wall
(iTunes follow on track this time treated me to the 1929 tune from the relatively unknown Kid Bailey on his Mississippi Bottom Blues…acoustic blues in a simple but so effective way.)