Following the combined success of a head-turning first album (‘Open Road’), 2010’s remarkable award-laden sophomore effort (‘Heads I Win Tails You Lose’) and a fearsome live reputation, 22-year-old bluesman Oli Brown’s latest album arrives with a high degree of expectation. In ‘Here I Am’ Brown handles this, then, by sticking with what he does best and providing more of the same.
That’s not to say he’s afraid of any new direction — across the 12 tracks here Brown takes as many cues from blues-influenced classic rock such as Led Zeppelin and Free as he does traditional Chicago blues mainstays. “Here I am with a new intention / I’ll be just who I wanna be,” he declares at the beginning of the opening title track, seemingly aware of the preceding riff that would sound just as at home on, say, a Queens of the Stone Age album.
And that’s where his new, slightly rockier approach really sparkles on this album: courageously quirky riffs are scattered throughout, showing that Brown is clearly confident enough in his handling of the blues genre to throw in a few curveballs, and pull them off too. All the classic elements that made his first two albums enjoyable remain, however; ‘Thinking About Her’ hops between a clunky shuffle and a slow boogie, ‘I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know’ is a heartfelt minor blues with an admirable vocal performance, and album closer ‘Solid Ground’ brings Brown full circle with a more Chicago-style number.
The guitar performance, for which in the past Oli has garnered the most attention, is as solid as ever, once again spurning any kind of shred-athon (of which he is undoubtedly capable) for playing with a finesse that has you hanging on every bend. It’s this mastery that rescues the album in its weaker moments; the delectably-crafted guitar solo in ‘All We Had To Give’, for instance, provides respite in a song that, regrettably, sounds like Maroon 5.
Another weakness in ‘Here I Am’ comes in the form of the production, which is rather steadfast in adapting to each song — great songs like ‘Devil In Me’, having more of a dustier feel to it, would have really stood out had they been graced with a more sympathetic mix. This lets down the strength of the song-writing somewhat, in a genre that by default is known for little variation.
With ‘Here I Am’, Oli Brown has created yet another enjoyable exploration of modern blues, one that will no doubt be loved by the hardcore fans of his previous two. As the constrains of the genre become ever closer, however, it’ll be interesting to see what new tricks he has for the next one.
Rated 7 out of 10