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From the Inside Out

The Honest-to-Goodness Real-Life Blues

By Published: March 14, 2005

John mainly sounds like the sum of his influences. Formative gigs include his stint in the Saturday night house band at B. B. King's Blues Club on Beale Street in Memphis, where John worked with drummer Howard Grimes and rhythm guitarist Mabon "Teenie Hodges, members of the house band for Hi Records, where Al Green cut his 1970s soul classics. John then moved to London and formed his first CJB, which included onetime Eric Clapton drummer Henry Spinetti, in 1992. John is also a noteworthy gearhead who has enjoyed a longstanding technical relationship with Roger Mayer, the British guitar effects designer who invented the Octavia for Jimi Hendrix and similar guitar devices for Clapton, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, David Gilmour, and Carlos Santana.

Recorded live in John's Cleveland (Ohio) hometown with bassist Steve Calabria and drummer Scott Turner, Surfin' burns with the hot sound of ass-whuppin' electric Texas blues. It begins right from the opener, which asks "Are You Ready for the Blues? The rhythm team does what they're there to do — lay down the time and the chords, churn up the beat, and let John flash his vocal and guitar chops, which in this case sound very much like Clapton.

"For Your Pleasure smashes out frantic blues rock that made me think of Ted Nugent's Free For All but with Robin Trower featured on psychedelic lead guitar, and the stormy "Shake 'Em On Down seems to honor Led Zeppelin's "In My Time of Dying and "The Lemon Song.

"Beer Drinking Woman, the closest thing here to a traditional (twelve-bar) blues, serves as centerpiece of the set; as the rhythm section stretches elastic instrumental passages then snaps them back with crashing chord crescendos, John's guitar and vocal, both creased with too much barroom smoke and whiskey, smolder from his soul into yours like a classic Little Milton blues.

This fire burns down to its embers with the set-closing Hendrix tribute, "Voodoo Chile (Slight Return) (also a SRV favorite). Somehow, "this sounds like Hendrix just does not seem descriptive or powerful enough... yet few other words seem worthy of this squalling tornado that spills over with fury, feedback, and funk.


Norman Brown
West Coast Coolin'
Warner Bros.
2004

Brown plays rhythm & blues that's more rhythm than blues and more truthfully jazz-pop more than anything else.

Guitarist Brown's previous album, Just Chillin', was largely produced by James Poyser and Viktor Dupliax—hit-makers for Erykah Badu, D'Angelo, Jill Scott, and Macy Gray—and claimed the 2002 Grammy® for Best Pop Instrumental recording. The pair returns to helm Coolin'. But while Chillin' featured a stellar galaxy of guest vocalists (Miki Howard, Chante Moore, Michael McDonald), Brown jumps on the Coolin' vocals himself. "I wanted to go further into some of the great Soul and R&B sounds that have been such a tremendous influence on me, he allows.

Can you tell something of a musician from the company he keeps? If so, note that studio legend Jerry Hey (who's been around for so long he might have constructed arrangements for archangel Gabriel's trumpet) arranged the occasional horns and plays flugelhorn, that ultra-smooth Eric Benet frequently served as co-composer, and that the centerpiece of this set is Brown's satiny smooth cover of Marvin Gaye's soul classic, "What's Going On.

There's not a lot of "jazz here but plenty of pleasant music. Among the tracks with vocals, which Brown delivers with admirable soul and tenderness, "Come Over sounds the most seductively luscious, with the opening dove's song "I Might a cooing second.

Instrumentalist Brown takes his turns, too, saying to his jazz guitar "Let's Play on that song, "Up N At 'Em, on "Right Now and on "Missin' You, which honors the sound and feel of an earlier unexpected hit pop record by a jazz guitarist, "Is It You? by Lee Ritenour. The closer, "Remember the Time, is not a cover of the Michael Jackson hit (an easy assumption in this context) but, as Brown's fingers fly up and down the frets like a world-class masseuse, one of his tastiest instrumentals.

In other words, smooth jazz radio should be all over this release, which, oddly, is almost enough to make one think of George Benson as a jazz guitarist again.



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