Junior Brown plays it just right
Johnny D's, Somerville, Mass., Aug. 16, 2001
By Jeffrey B. Remz
SOMERVILLE, MA - Take a look at Junior Brown, and the guy with the droopy eyelids looks like the average guy next door.
But when he straps on his guitar contraption, doffs his white hat and steps to the mic singing about "Cagey Bea" (as in KGB, the defunct Russian secret service), "Hillbilly Hula Gal" and the "Highway Patrol," he is anything but Joe Average as once again exemplified by his latest foray into Boston.
Brown first and foremost proved time and again what a superb guitarist he is throughout the 95-minute show before a packed crowd. Brown devised a contraption known as a guit-steel, which has one arm on which he plays guitar and a second for playing steel.
Brown easily alternates between the two, giving just the right sound when needed. His playing is utterly clean with lots of very sharp playing. Brown can play it fast or slow, hitting all sorts of notes (at one point, the notes sounded like they were coming from the high end of the piano) and making all kinds of sounds that the guitar aficionados out there would drool over.
His medley of songs of yesteryear like "Secret Agent Man," "The Good, The Bad and the Ugly" and "Walk Don't Run" all pointed to his guitar heroics.
Not all is so serious either in music or song. He inserted parts of the theme from "ET" during the instrumental part of the set. Even that showed his prowess though.
As for the songs, the guy knows just how to turn a phrase. "Cagey Bea," off his brand new "Mixed Bag" CD (it's not a mixed bag musically. What it means is that he has stretched out a bit doing some out and out blues and adding a horn section on at least one song) is, in fact, about a female Russian agent. He also sang about being saved by a gorgeous female lifeguard. Loopy, but they bring a smile to the face.
In some ways, Brown really writes and thinks like your average Joe. He has long sung about the working class folks, adding spice to their lives.
Perhaps the one criticism of Brown is that there is no particular build to the set as he goes from song to song. And while the quality remains high, there is not a great deal of difference in seeing Junior again and again in concert.
But despite that, there is a lot to be said for a guy with those big lids who knows how to turn a phrase and make a guitar sing.
Local band The Stumbleweeds opened with a pleasing set. The quartet (usually it's a quintet, the regular guitarist was on vacation) worked particularly well when Red Soares (aka Chris Debarge) handled lead vocals and did duets with main lead singer Lynnette Lenker.
The band, which recently released their first album, plays a mixture of old style country and rockabilly-tinged songs to good effect.