Oli Brown – Songs From The Road CD/DVD

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Review by Harry Paterson

Ruf Records

Oli Brown is a big deal. At least on the blues underground. Whatever that is. Wherever that is, its genesis is popularly rumoured to be somewhere south of a fabled crossroads, somewhere near the Dockery Plantation in the Mississippi Delta. In Oli’s case it’s probably more accurately located in a cowshed in Norfolk. At least he has rural country roots in common with his musical forbears. But is there is anything else?

On paper the pedigree seems indisputable; 2010 British Blues Awards wins for ‘Best Male vocalist’ and ‘Best Young Artist’ and top five places in Classic Rock’s and Mojo’s ‘Blues Album of the Year’ respectively. Among much else. It’s rumoured, too, that no less a deity than Joe Bonamassa has graced young Brown with his favour. Touched by the very hand of God, no less. So far, so good.

One thing is beyond dispute, at least as evidenced here – a dual CD/DVD release, filmed and recorded in Norwich that sees Brown paying homage to his hometown – is that Brown has a very distinctive sound and technique; based, in part, on thumb-picking and melding Jimi Hendrix with SRV. As to the scope of its appeal, however, well, that’s a whole other walk in the shadow of the blues.

The effortless freeform note-spatters, never dispatched with anything less than panache, might be a testament to the brash confidence of youth. Ditto the culmination of years of tedious bedroom study. Again, so far so good. Less obviously a good thing is the resulting sound. Maybe the heat, sweat and extreme temperature of live performance have knocked Brown’s axe off its axis. Tuning problems, maybe? Or perhaps the conscious choice of notes, with nary a resolution or root note in sight. Whatever, the overall effect is one of teeth-grinding tension that brings little relief. Quickly the ears are overwhelmed and fatigue sets in.

On the Waterfront, as it were, live and unpolished, the DVD is easier on the senses; the visuals providing a slight distraction from the aural assault. It coulda been a contender… Brown’s unmistakable energy and commitment is better served in this format. Absent from the CD, along with the four extra tracks on the DVD, is the occasionally striking resemblance to Rory Gallagher, both musically and physically.

Blues as avant-garde performance art? A singularly oddball approach to melody? Who knows? Whatever the jury decides, regarding Brown’s Marmite musings, this particular juror remains out to lunch; undecided, unconvinced and in need of conclusive proof either way. Maybe next time then, Oli.

6 out of 10

Oli Brown - Songs From The RoadTrack Listing:

CD:

  1. Speechless
  2. Thinking About Her
  3. Manic Bloom
  4. Next Girl
  5. Mr Wilson
  6. Love is Taking Its Toll
  7. Devil In Me
  8. You Can Only Blame yourself
  9. Stone Cold

DVD

  1. Speechless
  2. Thinking About Her
  3. Manic Bloom
  4. Here I Am
  5. Next Girl
  6. Evil Soul
  7. Love Is Taking Its Toll
  8. Mr Wilson
  9. Devil In Me
  10. You Can Only Blame Yourself
  11. I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know
  12. Remedy
  13. Stone Cold

 

 

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