[Review in the April 2000 issue of Blues Review magazine]
Veteran guitarist and B-3 man Mel Brown backed T-Bone Walker, John Lee Hooker and Etta James before spending more than a decade in the employ of Bobby "Blue" Bland.
In the mid-1980s he moved to Austin and took a spot in the house band at Antone's which released If It's All Night, It's All Right, a sublime album by Brown, recording with Tony Coleman and Russell Jackson, under the name Silent Partners. At last we have Brown's debut as a leader with the assured Neck Bones and Caviar.
No one is readier for the spotlight. Where All Night emphasized aggressive Texas-style blues, sometimes with a contemporary production edge, Bones shows a more reflective Brown. With the dry Texas-California sound of Lowell Fulson, Brown's singing is measured and richly expressive, suited to both the raucous "I Ainít Drunk" and the seductive "I Believe To My Soul." His guitar playing has settled into what sounds like intuitive perfection, with Brown feeling his way into touches of melody and splashes of chord tones. Sometimes his lines are long and rolling, other times near-minimalist, but theyíre always tasteful and extremely speechlike. Lowell Fulson again echoes as stylistic kin, but on the soul-jazz workout "Summer Magic" Brown cuts loose in a funky, fleet style that sounds closer to George Benson than Texas blues.
The first-rate material helps. Z.Z. Hillís deep soul ballad "Youíre The One" and the roaring take of Allen Toussaintís "Get Out Of My Life, Woman" are as compelling as the dangerously intense readings of "Lord, Have Mercy" and Hookerís "Iím In The Mood." Originals include the slamming "I Want To Hold Onto You, Baby" and the fine shuffles "Blues On The Green" and "Love That Girl." Brownís band, the Homewreckers, merits special mention for following Brown across stylistic linesólow-down or sophisticated, theyíre right there. John Leeís superb piano and organ accompaniment, and the rhythm section of bassist Al Richardson and drummer Jim Boudreau, lend each track a fantastic swinging feel.
Neck Bones and Caviar defies description, really: Just say itís so good it almost isnít fair. Track this one down and savor it.
Awarded five stars out of five by France's venerable Soul Bag magazine:
"This disc is a veritable blues oasis in the midst of a blues desert . . . On a marvellous production as only Electro-Fi knows how to do, Mel gives priority to pure blues. The style and the sound of his guitar evoque the best of Fenton Robinson, with elements of soul, funk and the West Side. His voice is welcoming, delicious . . . Eight covers and four original songs are sprinkled with serious solos, free from a lot of the embellishments that dilute the blues today. The rest of the group plays as one, great piano, impeccable drumming, and you have the feeling of seeing them live onstage. If you do not start dancing to the instrumental "Blues On The Green," you are hopeless. Indispensable!"
Christophe Mourot Soul Bag Spring 2000
"Brown's spare guitar intros set the listener up for moody late-night country blues, but his aching talk-and-song voice tells dire tales with impressive drama that communicates gritty urban reality."
Geoff Chapman The Toronto Star May 6, 2000
"Nothing short of classic electric guitar blues. The greats will all attest that Mel Brown's guitar prowess has nothing to do with speed, but everything to do with chording, note-stretching, and innovative phrasings. He is a guitarist's guitarist, and makes no bones about playing it his way. You will not find a cleaner, more economic guitar player; and his big body Gibson sound slays all competition . . . Authenticity reigns, professional consciousness prevails, and Mel Brown is in the driver's seat."
Mark A. Cole Big City Blues April/May 2000
"This CD has everything, from rock to soul to blues, and does justice to all genres."
Gene Curtis Swamp Watch May/June 2000
"Knowing, conversational vocals and masterful guitar . . . It's high time you got acquainted with Mel."
Sharon Schneider Blues Beat Spring 2000
"Neck Bones And Caviar might seem a strange combination, but when it's Mel Brown's singing and playing, the results are tasty indeed."
Jim DeKoster Living Blues May/June 2000
"With Neck Bones And Caviar, Mel is delivering his extraordinary talent with the world . . . Mel can write with the best of them . . . The producers Andrew Galloway and Sandra B. Tooze did a superb job in capturing 65 minutes of one of the last great blues players of his generation . . . Blues legend and Mel's pal Snooky Pryor says, Nobody does it like Mel Brown.' Joe Louis Walker recently said, He's probably one of the greatest guitar players in any style. I remember playing at Antone's and Mel just came up and slaughtered all of us.' One listen to Neck Bones And Caviar and you'll be slaughtered too!"
Tim Holek Blues Notes May 2000