Guit Real

Junior Brown at Headliners

By Michael Campbell

It is seldom that an audience hears a repertoire of guitar licks spanning such diverse musical influences as Speedy West, the Ventures, and Jimi Hendrix from the same artist on a given night. When such quotations are delivered in a single solo, it is astonishing. Curb recording artist Junior Brown seized the packed house by the ears from the get-go and never let up.

The configuration of his band offered a dramatic example of the joys of minimalism. The instrumental line-up consisted of stand-up bass, acoustic rhythm guitar (played with crafty consistency by the lovely Tanya Rae Brown), and a single snare drum played with brushes, and of course, Junior's "Big Red" guit-steel. In a casting that seemed surreal, the player of that single snare was none other than Buddy Miles (yes, that Buddy Miles of Band of Gypsies fame). The sound was houserocking, full and clear, with plenty of space for Junior's stratospheric adventures.

Junior hit the stage, immediately launching into "South of Dallas" in his trademark Ernest Tubb baritone, as Tanya Rae gracefully and good-naturedly dimpled during the evening's many references to spouse, including the hit "My Wife Thinks You're Dead." Tanya provided flawless harmony to Junior's sincere vocals. Rarely pausing more than a full second between songs, Junior's pyrotechnics included detuning of the bass strings (a bottomless note), and absolutely seamless transition between the guitar and steel portions of his instrument, while spewing riffs and double stops at breakneck speed.

Surprisingly, the set's material spanned his five releases on the Curb label, as opposed to focusing on the latest one, Long Walk Back He also playfully included snippets of vintage covers, such as "Secret Agent Man," as well as a Ventures medley that included "Walk Don't Run" and "Pipeline." Along the way, both Buddy and Tanya Rae got featured vocals, which were well sung and well received. Aside from the guitar heroics, Junior writes and sings well-written, clever yet sincere country songs, transcending the pop pap that currently gluts CNN and CMT. The Headliners crowd was more than appreciative, and he left them begging for more.

MCA Recording artist Allison Moorer opened the show and seemed overly apologetic, reacting to problems with the monitor portion of the sound system that were not obvious to the audience. After a lethargic start on "Pardon Me." she hit her stride with "I Found A Letter" (from her Alabama Song album) evoking the warmth of Loretta Lynn. Her band was a mixed blessing, with a fine drummer that nicely augmented the vocals with clear high harmony, but with a pair of guitarists who lacked sufficient intensity.