Friday, April 28, 2017

Junior Brown - Semi Crazy

It's just within the last few years I've come to appreciate country music and even more recently since I've discovered Junior Brown. He is absolutely one of the - if not the - best guitarists currently playing although since he is in the country field - and he plays real country music, not the modern country-pop/pap - the material can be a bit corny for my tastes. But, when he plays it straight and for real, there is none better these days.

All that is not to say that there can't be humor in the songs, but he can go overboard at times. On this 1996 record, where he is joined by his wife Tanya Rae on rhythm guitar and backing vocals, along with Steve Layne on bass/vocals and Tommy Lewis on drums, he opens with the geunionely funny "Gotta Get Up Every Morning" ("to say goodnight to you"), where he sings in his Ernest Tubb-inspired voice and plays some exceptional riffs. "Darlin' I'll Do Anything You Say" has some terrific steel licks in it (he alternates between "regular" guitar and steel on his custom git-steel), although the song isn't one of his best. He raves it up in the fast-paced, rockabilly number "I Hung It Up", where he spits out fiery leads that blur the line between country, blues, and Hendrix-y rock'n'roll, but then he slows it down for the ballad, "I Want To Hear It From You", which is nicely done, as ballads go, and the steel adds the proper melancholy touches.

Junior has previously covered Red Simpson's "Highway Patrol" and here Red, whose themes were usually based on long haul drivers, joins Brown on the appropriately road-worthy title cut, "Semi Crazy", which is a genuinely clever double entendre. I like his interpretation of Hoagie Carmichael's "Hong Kong Blues", although it is a bit of a departure for him, but he is back to his ol' tricks in his own "Venom Wearin' Denim" (gotta love the line "if you give her a diamond you'll get a diamondback"). I expected "Parole Board" to be a goof, but it is a serious ballad that tugs at your heart strings as he plucks at his steel guitar strings. "Joe the Singing Janitor" has some of his goofiest lyrics yet, although his playing continues to impress, as it does in the finale "Surf Medley, where he combines "Pipeline", "Walk Don't Run", and "Secret Agent Man" with some of his own touches to walk the line between completely traditional and original.

Junior is a major, major talent and while all of his records are not completely consistent, this one if pretty damn fine from start to finish.