with the Greta Lee Band
The 40 Watt Club, Athens, GA • September 24, 1999
Junior Brown is in a weird place in modern country music. He’s loved by fans of modern radio/CMT/Top 40 country along side Shania Twain and Garth Brooks, but he’s also a favorite of the “cooler-than-Nashville” alt-country crowd who’d pick Son Volt over Clint Black any day of the week. Little wonder, though, as Brown’s something of a special performer. He sings wry country tunes planted firmly in tradition with a voice eerily similar to the legendary Earnest Tubb. However, what sets him apart is the “guit-steel,” a bizarre hybrid of an electric guitar and a steel guitar. Visual shock aside, Brown is a monster picker, able to whip out killer guitar licks then switch lightening-quick for some smooth steel playing. In short, one Junior Brown “guit-steel” excursion will wow anyone, and a whole night of them can flat blow you away.
That’s exactly what he did to the packed house at the 40 Watt, blew them slap away. After a great performance by the openers, Atlanta’s fine Greta Lee Band, Brown took the stage, and the crowd would’ve been quite happy if he’d stayed there all night. He ran through a killer set of old favorites and selections from his newest album, Long Walk Back , and the crowd simply ate it up.
First and foremost, watching Brown play guitar is an incredible experience. He mixes various rock and country stylings together so easily and seamlessly it’s hard to tell where twang ends and jangle begins. Brown’s a man who can whip out a jaw-dropping rendition of Hank Garland’s classic “Sugarfoot Rag” and then, without blinking an eye, play an incredible, extended version of Semi-Crazy’s “Surf Melody” (which includes selections from such surf classics as “Secret Agent Man,” “Walk, Don’t Run” and “Pipeline”). His sparse band kept incredible backing for the tunes (particularly the drummer, who’s kit consisted of only one snare drum and one cymbal). Brown’s wife, the “lovely Miss Tanya Raye,” even performed a tune from her new album, Meet the Mrs.
Instrumental prowess aside, Brown writes some clever country tunes. His wry sense of humor is highlighted on “Highway Patrol” and “My Wife Thinks You’re Dead,” while tunes like the guitar workout “I Hung It Up” and “Party Lights” show his strong roots with country music’s origins. All in all, the night was an incredible display of fleet-fingered fretwork, classic country singing, and a damn fine band. The rabid, appreciative crowd would’ve been perfectly happy if Brown chose to stay all night, but what we got was good enough, and only left us hungry for more. ◼