Back in the early ’80s I misspent my youth in small Bristol venues like The Green Rooms, and The Bridge Inn. In Bath it was The Bell in Walcot Street. All now long gone. There was a singer/guitarist who was rather older than the pop acts he often supported. Kevin Brown is often pigeonholed as the man who missed the British Blues boom, but he is far closer to the sort of Texas blues and country mix that Joe Ely and Butch Hancock were playing at the same time. In fact when he vanished from the Bristol scene in about 1983 it turned out he had moved to Austin to hone his chops and immerse himself in the music.
His first album ‘Road Dreams‘ appeared on Joe Boyd’s Hannibal Records in 1982. Some of the songs on that and 1988’s follow up ‘Rust‘ set him in a band context that has not aged well. It feels like someone was pushing him towards Eric Clapton’s style of the time.
After some record company shenanigans led to his fourth album, a set of slide guitar instrumentals being shelved, it took until 2001 for another album to appear. ‘Mojave Dust‘ is a solo guitar and vocal album that highlights the Americana side of his playing very well. Since then he has produced albums regularly in a variety of styles, including a duet album with Kora player Moussa Kouyate, and two albums as The Shackdusters with Gary Rudd, where Western Swing rubs shoulders with Hawaiian sounds. His most recent albums, ‘Grit‘ which feature Andy Fariweather Low and 2019s ‘Six Strings and A Dream‘ take him back to the dusty sounds of Texas for the most part. Brown describes the latter as “written between travels from Wiltshire to Goa and Mississippi”.
Why should you care about Kevin Brown? Because after 40 odd years and 14 albums he can still bring something fresh to each show, and each recording. Having broken out of his early blues pigeonhole he now pulls influences from all sorts of American traditions. His 2015 album ‘Grit‘ featured ‘The Ballad of J. J. Cale‘ and that is a pretty good reference point – bits of blues, folk, country and other things all mixed in together to produce a genuinely unique sound.