Keith B. Brown's debut album demonstrates why he is a past winner of the Beale Street Blues Society's National Blues Competition. Brown, a native Memphian, is a very accomplished guitarist, and has a voice that's ideally suited to the acoustic Blues that he plays and loves.
All bar one of the tracks on "Walking on Muddy Waters", which was recorded live in France, are covers. The list of songwriters reads almost like a who's who of acoustic Blues. The one name that seems slightly out of place is that of Jessie Mae Hemphill. The CD opens with her gospel chant "Lord, Help the Poor and Needy", on which Brown uses only tambourine for accompaniment.
Acoustic Delta Blues demands a special intensity and passion, like Charlie Patton or Son House both had. Brown has obviously listened to the masters, and understands this. Rather than being a copyist, however, he harmoniously blends the influences of his predecessors with his own styles and emotions. The most striking evidence of this is on the first version of "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean." Instead of playing it like Blind Lemon Jefferson's original, he adopts a style that is closer to Furry Lewis, who spent much of his long life in Memphis. Brown seems to particularly empathize with Lewis, and later performs a fine version of his "Falling Down Blues."
Most of the songs feature Brown solo, but Vincent Bucher joins him to add some very sympathetic harp to Muddy Waters' "You're Gonna Miss Me." The two also gel together perfectly on the self-penned, "I'm Busted". Brown provides the skeleton and Bucher adds the meat to the bones of a song that tells the tale of being stony-broke at the age of 23.
The only very minor quibble I have is with the production on Son House's "Grinnin' in Your Face." It sounds like the first part was recorded live, but the second part was recorded somewhere else, and the two don't blend together seamlessly. This quibble is offset by the packaging, however, since the CD comes in a rather cool wooden cheese box, which makes a good conversation piece.
"Walking on Muddy Waters" is a highly promising debut on which Brown demonstrates that he has all the tools required to be a success. He is scheduled to record his second album this summer, which is slated for release in the fall. I'm looking forward to hearing the results.
Contact Keith Brown for CD order and booking:
810 Loeb St., Memphis, TN 38111
This review is copyright © 1999 by Gordon Baxter, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved.