Sunday, November 14, 2010

November 14: Junior Brown, "I Hung It Up"

Artist: Junior Brown
Song: "I Hung It Up"
Album: Semi-Crazy
Year: 1996

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There are few things in making music that are more difficult than being completely unique, as somewhere at some point in history, there was likely another performer that sounded similar.  While some bands try and make a point of being odd, there is another approach that is very rarely attempted.  One sure way to be competelu distinctive within the entire history of music is to create your own instrument, and this is precisely the sort of genius that one finds within the music of Junior Brown.  In the mid-1980's, Brown created his own double-neck guitar, which he calls a "guit-steel," and it allows him to play with a sound and tone that is completely unique.  Blending together a number of different inlfuences, ranging from blus to country, and adding in his own brand of humor and attitude, Junior Brown remains in a category all his own, and he seems to be getting better with each album he releases.  While there is certainly no "bad" record in his catalog, there is something strangely brilliant found within his 1996 release, Semi-Crazy, and the album as a whole perfectly sums up everything that makes him so extraordinary.  Though many of his songs are a bit slower in nature, pulling more from blues and a bit of jazz, when Junior Brown completely lets loose, it is pure rock and roll bliss, and this is what one finds in his 1996 song, "I Hung It Up."

There is no single category that completely encompasses the sound that Junior Brown creates on “I Hung It Up,” as it is far too fast for blues, jazz, or country, yet there is a unique element that makes one unable to properly call it rock or even rockabilly.  The speed and swagger with which Brown plays his one-of-a-kind guitar is one of the most distinctive features of “I Hung It Up,” as the opening implies a fast-paced rockabilly jam, yet as the song progresses, it fades into something completely different.  Finding little need for other instrumentation, Brown’s guitar dominates the entire musical landscape as he seamlessly switches between “standard” playing and riffs along the slide portion of his guitar.  There are points on the song where the guitar is almost a second vocalist, as Brown uses it to fill the places between his lyrics.  It is at these moments that the blues influence become clear, as Brown clearly understands the idea of “where the notes are not played.”  While one can find his amazing tone and style on nearly every song he has ever recorded, it is the solo section on “I Hung It Up” that makes this a stand-out track.  Brown rips across the song, showing both his speed and technical skills, and the amount of emotion he is able to bring forth via his guitar is largely unparalleled elsewhere in music history.  Throughout all of “I Hung It Up,” Brown’s playing completely mesmerizes the listener, and the pace and tone never fall anything short of perfect.

Though there is no other guitar player in history that can match the tone of Junior Brown, he manages to make his voice play out as the ideal counterpart.  The way in which his deep, bass voice contrasts with the twangy, upbeat sound of his guitar is often stunning, and it is this combination where Brown gives a nod to his country and western roots.  There is a certain sound in his voice and playing that gives “I Hung It Up” a sound that would have fit in perfectly in the rockabilly movement of the 1950’s, and yet there is no question that it also brings a very modern feel.  The fact that he is able to combine all these sounds and influences into his vocal performance is what makes it so enjoyable, and the light-hearted lyrics he sings serves as the perfect finishing touch.  At its core, “I Hung It Up” is a love song, yet Junior Brown’s unique way of conveying this emotion makes the song truly unforgettable.  Whether he is singing about quitting drinking, smoking, or other women, Brown brings a smirk to every line, yet there is no question of the sincerity of his words.  Brown pushes the level of humor, also giving a large compliment to the women for who he pines when he sings, “..I took out my car for a Sunday drive, but I ran it through a fence watching you walk by…”  It is rather unconventional, yet clearly genuine expressions of his emotions that make “I Hung It Up” such a uniquely enjoyable musical experience.

While many musicians would prefer people think otherwise, the truth of the matter is, to be completely unique is perhaps the most difficult achievement in all of music.  Add in the task of combining a large number of different musical styles, and one can only stand in awe at the music of Junior Brown.  Taking the rockabilly format and infusing elements of jazz, blues, and a solid dose of his own odd personality, and there is simply nothing else in recorded history quite like the music of Junior Brown.  After listening to Brown for only a few minutes, it becomes abundantly clear that his creation of his own guitar was out of necessity, as one cannot imagine the sounds he creates coming from any other combination of instruments.  It is the fact that Brown’s music is so completely distinctive that makes him able to appeal to nearly every musical audience, and he proves that one can be witty and still make music that must be taken seriously.  Along with his oddly welcoming vocals, there is no arguing that Brown is one of the most talented guitar players in history, as both the speed and skill with which he plays are nothing short of phenomenal.  Simply put, there is absolutely nothing in the music of Junior Brown that is anything less that superb, and it is much the reason that he has become such a highly respected figure within the music scene of the past few decades.  Unquestionably one of the most truly unique artists in history, one can experience everything that makes Junior Brown such a legend in his 1996 song, “I Hung It Up.”

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