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Junior Brown, veteran of the rich Austin music scene and virtuoso/inventor of the versatile and fiery "guit-steel," makes his debut on the Telarc label with Down Home Chrome, a mix of rock and roll and bluesy ballads—plus a few surprises for fans of traditional country. By the end of this entertaining 12-pack produced by Junior himself, the message is clear: this ain't your father's country record.
Loaded with tales of heartache, hotrods and honky-tonk (and all the baggage that comes with them), Down Home Chrome showcases Brown's combination of clever Southwestern songcraft and staggering musicianship—the latter courtesy of "Big Red," his double-necked, 12-string "guit-steel" (a combination of electric and steel guitar). Listen closely and hear the echoes the voices of various past masters—Buck Owens, Chet Atkins, Dick Dale and countless others who've pushed the country/western/rockabilly envelope to its high-octane limit.
Down Home Chrome opens with the revved-up "Little Rivi-Airhead," a bouncy ode to a hotrod gal who's a faithful and fun-loving cutie—even if her battery's running a little low. "Little Rivi-Airhead" is followed immediately by "It Hurts When I Do That," the poignant ballad of a rambling music man who misses his girl back home. But this isn't the typical boy-misses-girl heartache song ("...been there, done that..."). This singer's little lady is a Siamese cat. A few tracks later, Brown swings into high gear with the rollicking "Hill Country Hotrod Man," a barn-burning celebration of the racing life that augments his instrumental pyrotechnics with a full-throttle horn section. The tempo downshifts quickly to the mournful "Jimmy Jones," a mostly spoken-word ballad of a wandering brother whose homecoming is a tragic one. On the lighter side, "Two Rons Don't Make It Right" is a tongue-in-cheek tale of a breakup triggered by a case of mistaken identity.
But if the psychedelia of the Woodstock era is more your speed, Brown's got you covered in the home stretch with an incendiary yet reverent rendition of Jimi Hendrix's "Foxy Lady," complete with howling guitar feedback and growling vocal attack.
Born in Cottonwood, Arizona, in 1952, Brown first learned to play the piano from his father and became a professional musician at the end of the '60s. A dream prompted him to create an instrument fusing a six-string guitar with its steel counterpart, which led to the development of the "guit-steel" in the mid-'80s.
Brown made his debut in 1993 with 12 Shades of Brown, which featured a tribute to his biggest influence, "My Baby Don't Dance to Nothing but Ernest Tubb." Guit With It followed later that same year, and like its predecessor, was met with considerable critical acclaim. After Junior High, a five-song EP released in 1995, Brown released three more full-length albums—Semi-Crazy (1996), The Long Walk Back (1998) and Mixed Bag (2001).
Down Home Chrome, his debut on Telarc, maintains the same eclectic and highly entertaining songwriting and stylistic approach that he has taken throughout his career. "I don't have any boundaries," he says. "The only boundaries are defined by what I like to do. The bulk of the album is what I guess you would call traditional country. But there are so many little things that I throw in here and there that you can't really call the album a country album."
Call it what you will, there's no mistaking the shimmering finish on Down Home Chrome. Polish the grillwork and turn up the volume. There ain't a smoother ride this side of the border.