ARTHUR BROWN: BROWN, BLACK & BLUE (1991)
1) Fever; 2) Monkey Walk; 3) Unchain My Heart; 4) Got My Mojo Working; 5) Smokestack Lightnin'; 6) Hound Dog; 7) Help Me; 8) The Right Time; 9) Stand By Me; 10) The Lord Is My Friend.
After the release of Requiem, Arthur Brown disappeared from the public eye — figuratively speaking, of course, since, for the most part of his career, he was about the size of an elementary particle relative to the public eye — for about a whole decade. Maybe he was unable to find even the tiniest, God-forsaken record label to take care of him, or perhaps he thought he'd said it all with Requiem and finally earned the right to retire (and I'd certainly understand that).
However, in the late 1980s, bitten by the nostalgia bug, perhaps, he started making occasional TV appearances and hanging out with Jimmy Carl Black, the original drummer, vocalist, and Zappa's part-time creative partner in The Mothers of Invention. One thing led to another, and one of these «anothers» ended up as a joint recording by the two — a limited-issue album of ten R&B compositions, mostly golden oldies, but also featuring a re-recording of ʽMonkey Walkʼ from Chisholm In My Bosom, just to break up the predictability.
Unfortunately, at best the record is little more than just a souvenir of two old pals having a friendly get-together. The arrangements are tasteful, especially in the context of the late Eighties / early Nineties — real live playing, guitars, old-fashioned keyboards, brass section, harmonicas, the works — but never interesting, and Jimmy's input could just as well be replicated by any seasoned pro on the drums: he may be explicitly mentioned as an equal partner and have his name as part of the pun in the album title, but he is never really in the spotlight. And Brown — certainly Brown is not qualified to pull this off alone, particularly after his ten-year layoff.
He does seem to understand that merely covering the classics makes little sense, but the only «improvement» on his mind is changing the songs' lyrics seemingly at random, and, occasionally, supplementing the regular vocal melodies with long tangential rants of either a humorous (ʽGot My Mojo Workingʼ) or metaphysical-intellectual (ʽThe Lord Is My Friendʼ) nature. Sort of a pitiful decision — I, for one, do not generally need being told about how all the great religious figures of the past are really one by a guy who has just wasted thirty minutes of my time.
All I can say is that Brown's vocal skills are still there, and that ten years have done little to quell his theatrical manners or arrogance. So if you think that his classic cover of ʽI Put A Spell On Youʼ is one of the greatest wonders of the universe, you will want to have these ten tracks as respectable shadows of the past. But I've always thought that song was just an excellent example of the Brown/Crane collaboration. Unfortunately, Crane was not involved in the making of this album for the valid excuse of being dead, and nobody of the same caliber replaced him — none of the musicians here seem to give much of a damn about «expressivity».
Strictly for hardcore fans, historians, or big admirers of classic R&B and electric blues who just love these songs so much, they have to try to appreciate them in as many incarnations as possible. Of course, these are all good songs, and they are all done justice, but writing about them in more detail would only make sense if Brown, Black & Blue had been a conscious attempt to steal them away from Ray, Muddy, Elvis, and Howlin' Wolf. It wasn't; in fact, it couldn't. From that point of view, it's all strictly thumbs down, and no amount of inventive ad-libbing is going to affect that judgement. Like I said, only for completists or those with nothing else to do.
Check "Brown, Black and Blue" (MP3) on Amazon