Tuesday, January 29, 2008


It can take years for a band to find their sound and create magic on an album. The journey means hard work, replacing band members or losing one in the process. Old Man Brown’s original drummer John Scott Wakefield passed as the band was finishing tracks for their demo. They carried on and recorded Return, an astounding album that conjures up the blues, gospel, soul and rock while eschewing associated stereotypes.
On Return, Old Man Brown captured lightning in a bottle, getting back to soulful and earnest songwriting. Return just flows, as if without effort, sounding timeless, as though the album has been lying around waiting to be played again. It is emotional yet smooth, something fresh by the likes of four young men from the Baltimore area. Recorded in Nashville, the band marks a return to southern soul, taking familiar music and making it new again. Think Black Rebel Motorcycle Club or The Black Keys.
Adam Scott-Wakefield’s vocals sound older than his age, coming off as if Ray Charles and Steve Winwood were singing at the same time. Tracks navigate from the soulful ‘Fool to Love’ to the blues of ‘It’s a Shame’ and ‘Like Bees to Honey.’ Mixing funk and rock on ‘Steal Away’ the track elicits a different take on relationships, trading a life of marriage for the road. A man don’t need a woman, a ship don’t need no anchor/Mama taught me self reliance/I’m gonna thank her.
Standout songs include ‘Seek My Arms,’ ‘Return’ and the fantastic mini-epic that is ‘Come Rain, Come Shine.’ Part slow ballad, with its church service feel, the Hammond organ lends character to a song already rich in the tapestry of Wakefield’s vocals singing I can’t keep holding onto you/I know you’re longing to stay too/I could always be your gentle warm breeze/that lifts you up when your cold man drops you on your knees. It’s a beautiful song that collides Muscle Shoals with Motown-era loveliness.
‘Return’ opens with a guitar melody a la Eric Clapton during his mid-nineties, elegantly acoustic period. A song about the comfort of home when things get hectic, it strides along coolly, not letting the blistering sound of guitar over power the whole.
‘Seek My Arms’ is sure to be a ladies’ favorite. Shuffling, bouncing and a smooth dance number, its descending riff and funky piano playing make it ripe for the dance floor. The piano and guitar play off one another, the middle like a mini-jam. If some tracks call to mind the jazz flow of The Allman Brothers it didn’t hurt that Allman brother Johnny Neal recorded the album and played organ as well.

For fans of Allman Brothers, Jack Johnson, The Black Crowes and Robert Bradley’s Blackwater Surprise.

- Brian Tucker

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