Black Music Matters Festival

Junior Brown

Long Walk Back – 1998 (Curb)

Reviewed by Brian Steinberg

CDs by Junior Brown

With his creaky, rumbling voice and crying slide guitar, it's easy to relegate Junior Brown's efforts to the realm of genre exercise. Any of this stuff fits right in on a truck stop jukebox, or in the repertoire of a honky-tonk bar-band. Listening for the subtleties, however, sets you right.

On this, his first effort since 1996's award-winning "Semi-Crazy," the eclectic Brown tries his hand at doo-wop sing-alongs ("(I'm Just) Looking For Love"), frenzied '50's surf-rock (a cover of Elvis' "Rock-A-Hula Baby," accented with what sounds like Hawaiian steel) and even some rough blues ("Keepin' Up With You," a great track that includes Jimi Hendrix Experience drummer Mitch Mitchell flailing about).

Surprises come in nearly every song, thanks to Brown's proficiency on his 'guit-steel,' a stringed-instrument combo allowing him to add all kinds of elements to a basic idea. Some numbers fall flat ("Freedom Machine," an ode to a car that we've heard before), but Brown's plucky spirit mostly carries through.