The great Russian writer and journalist Isaac Babel once said about being a writer, “You must know everything.” This is a pretty daunting statement to encounter at first, but over time as one works it out in their mind like a never ending math equation one begins to slowly realize what Babel means. He means that you must never stop trying to learn, that you must never yield to any one thing once you think you’ve accomplished a little something.
Tennessee singer/songwriter Buck Brown had a similar revelation of sorts back in the day. He grew up in the ‘60s, was in the church choir and had a healthy dose of piano lessons. Brown credits radio to his eventual diaspora movement to the worlds of rock n’ roll, doo wop, Latin, etc. He said that the first time he hear “Duke of Earl” it blew him away and it still does. A remark like this lets you know at once you are in the presence of an artist who prays at the altar of his craft every day.
Buck Brown’s latest record is The Slow Lane, but in reality it is anything but slow. Buck kicks it off with the tall-tale heist themed story-song “The Ballad of Johnny Reno” a banjo fueled romp reminiscent of Willy Nelson. Next Brown slows down the pace, but not the flavor on the finger snapping cool of “Somebody’s Got to Go.” Next he takes a serious tone and hammers out a spare yet powerful narrative on “Reuben.”
There is really no territory that Brown has not mastered as he demonstrates on the tear-jerking ballad “Louise” which can count among its accolades some excellent finger picking as well as well as bearing a lovely resemblance to the classic earlier works of Neil Young. He invokes Young’s sense of mastery later also on the slow roll of “No One Here.” He also has Young’s knack for fusing styles such as rock, blues and folk, as Brown does so effortlessly on “Uptown Five.”
Even though the songs on The Slow Lane weave in and out of styles and tempos, go from narratives that make you laugh to ones that make you want to cry, the record is held together by Brown’s passion for the music he plays. One can learn to play guitar, one can learn to sing and compose melodies. And there’s no lack of talent out in the world. But when it comes down to it the best records contain all the things that can’t be learned, mainly heart and soul for something you love. And The Slow Lane is chock full of heart and soul.
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