ain't no foggy mountain high enough

Into the Twangy-First Century (MCA)
Run C&W

By Paul Moffett

The Burns Brothers, a.k.a. Run C&W, play that sweet soul music the way God intended it – bluegrass style.

That's the tag the band uses to classify themselves and it certainly is accurate, if slightly misleading. They do indeed play Motown and soul standards, including "Walkin' the Dog," "Stop in the Name of Love," "Hold On, I'm Coming" and a killer version of "I've Been Lovin' You Too Long." Such a simple description belies the ideas and effort that went into the creation of this CD, however.

At bluegrass festivals, it's always been possible to hear players do "non-bluegrass" tunes. A banjo-playing friend of mine used to favor the riff from "In the Sunshine of Your Love" for between-song amusement. It's also the case that most genres of American music have borrowed, directly or indirectly, from the Appalachian and mountain traditions that spawned bluegrass, so it should be no surprise that bluegrass musicians might see nothing wrong with reversing that process.

Run C&W took this idea and developed it thoroughly. Understanding that listeners are not inclined to pay attention to songs that aren't done the way they're supposed to be, the group decided to play it for laughs. Hence the name, the Burns Brothers, after Jethro Burns, mandolinist extraordinaire of Homer and Jethro.

The band members' "names" are Rug Burns, Side Burns, Crashen Burns and G. W. "Wash" Burns. Their parents are Dad Burns and Aw Burns. They have a little introductory story at the beginning of the CD to set it all up.

The humor extends throughout the project. The insert features a photo of memorabilia from Run C&W's career, including their picture on the cover of Reeling Spoon magazine, from their appearance at the Isle of Wight Bread Festival; an eight-track of their greatest hits; a poster from the Fabulous Rhythm and Bluegrass Festival in scenic Lefthand, Mo., and the cover from their Gabby Road LP. (Three of them have shoes on and the road is gravel – with black pedestrian markings).

Even the credits are not spared: there are "extry-spacial" thanks to such luminaries as Hank, Esther & Vanessa Williams and Lou & Elvis Costello.

The music, however, is mostly untouched by the broad humor, and it's that music that makes this CD worth more listens than the first one. Run C&W do medleys of many soul tunes and all of them are shortened somewhat. Nevertheless, the band gives the tunes the proper treatment they deserve – usually. Whether or not "What'd I Say" really should have chicken and cow harmonies in it is open to debate, however, and if James Brown hears their version of "Please, Please, Please," he might be tempted to risk violating the terms of his probation.

Nevertheless, this is a perfect album for boomers who like those soul tunes and bluegrass – or anybody else, for that matter, who likes humorous experimentation and good pickin'.