Junior Brown = one part humor, one part music
House of Blues, Cambridge, Mass., Oct. 26, 1997
CAMBRIDGE, MA - For starters, there is that awfully strange looking instrument country musician Junior Brown plays. He calls it the guit-steel, one part guitar and one part pedal steel.
Add to Brown's ability to fluidly change from guitar to pedal and back plus quite humorous songs featuring humorous wordplay, and you get a sense of what makes Brown tick.
Brown, at the House of Blues for the first of two shows Sunday, ably showed his shtick clicks.
Brown, touring in between albums with a one due in early 1998, offers songs with a "wink wink" kind of feeling. In fact, he gained his greatest fame from such a song, "My Wife Thinks You're Dead," for which he won awards for the video.
He serves up the tongue-in-check "Darlin' I'll Do Anything You Say," supposedly about a man's total devotion. The kicker - "Well almost anything anyway" - comes up at the very end.
The Austin, Texas-area resident writes songs containing marvelous strings of word play. "Venom Wearin' Denim' weaves snake references into the song about a woman.
While Brown could be accused of poking fun at the musical genre and mining the same field once too often, he should be found innocent. Brown just seems to adopt and pursue a skewed perspective about love and relationships.
He even has fun with the music where he is clearly the focal point , although he does have a strong backing trio of wife Tanya Rae on acoustic and more importantly backing vocals, Steve Layne on upright bass and Mike Middleton on drums.
On "Highway Patrol," Brown evokes the sound of a siren on his pedal steel. "Hillbilly Hula Gal" possesses a Hawaiian feel.
Brown not only was humorous in song, but also looks. He has big droopy, expressive eyes and wore a huge white hat and cream-colored suit.
Despite the humorous aspects of lyric and music, the music, in reality, was the meat of Brown's message. This guy can play whether guitar or pedal. (The guit-steel actually is one instrument with the top neck being the guitar and the bottom the pedal. Both join an elongated head of the instrument.) Song after song was infused with his seemingly "no big deal" licks.
He closed the regular set with the ultra hot "Surf Medley," which includes "Secret Agent Man" and "Walk Don't Run." No, this part wasn't country, but Brown made classics his own.
The one negative was the length of the show. While 70 minutes could not be considered puny, Brown made it clear during the two-song encore he had to end the show to make way for fans waiting outside for the night cap. And that meant no "Sugarfoot Rag" or "My Baby Don't Dance to Nothing But Ernest Tubb."
Of course, the flip side is that the lyrically quirky, musically majestic Brown left the crowd wanting more.