Junior Brown
In New York

By Martin Longley

Meet the maker of Down Home Chrome, Semi Crazy and Guit With It, gangling, besuited and topped by a voluminous twenty-gallon hat. The last of these three album titles alludes to Junior's distinctive guitar hybrid, the guit-steel, a two-pronged beast that combines a conventional axe with a lap steel, both hammered onto the same plank of wood.

Brown's model isn't quite as ridiculous as some of the multi-necked monsters brandished by the likes of Jimmy Page, Pat Metheny and Steve Vai (in ascending order of ludicrousness), but it's still a hard contraption to get a hold of, though Junior treats his hand-crafted guit-steel like a bodily extension.

It doesn't take long for the 'round midnight crowd at Joe's Pub to get livened up, with Brown making what could be called a standard start, then steadily raising up towards a mild hysteria. Joe's is an annexe of The Public Theatre, on Lafayette Street, which opened in 1967, with the world premiere of Hair, and is also responsible for running each summer's free Shakespeare In The Park season. Grand pillars, a wall full of framed portraits and soft pseudo-chandelier lighting create a cosy atmosphere for eating, drinking and loud, brawling music.
 
Living in Austin, Texas, Junior's now in his middle fifties, but could just about pass as a old-timey country boy, twangin' and hollerin' in his deep bass tone, following along the subterranean track of Johnny Cash. But, as the set progresses, he starts to reveal an increasingly outward mania for the sliding string, switching between necks and starting to sound like a saner manifestation of The Legendary Stardust Cowboy. He could almost appeal to an audience that would dig Jon Spencer, Hasil Adkins or Link Wray, but just keeps his extremity in check enough to retain a mainline hillbilly appeal.

Junior's best-loved song is My Wife Thinks You're Dead, for which he unearths his deepest vocal rumble, but by the end of the set he's been trawling through hard blues, garage beat, Mexicana, jazz and swing, setting off on an extended guitar-twang medley. He's partnered by an electric bassist and a drummer who forgot most of his kit, so there's plenty of room for Brown to manoeuvre, scribbling trebly plectrum runs, or letting his bottleneck skate up sweetly towards the heavens.
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