Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown
Blackjack, originally released on vinyl in 1977 by Real Records, was my first Gatemouth Brown album. And to this day, it's still my favorite. I'm so glad to finally have it on CD.
Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown had worked a variety of jobs since his days as a recording artist for Duke/Peacock Records in the 1950s, including time as a sheriff in New Mexico. These recordings pre-date the revival of his recording career, first with Rounder Records and later with Verve. I caught him at a small club in Washington, D.C. not long after Blackjack was released; he was traveling basically as a solo act, performing on nearly every instrument he could carry along with him.
This musical versatility shows on Blackjack, as Gatemouth plays guitar, fiddle, viola, mandola, and harmonica. The musical styles represented here are just as diverse, as we hear straight Texas blues, Western swing, jazz, bluegrass, and Cajun. He's backed by a solid group of what I suspect are Louisiana musicians, as this album was recorded at the Studio in the Country in Bogalusa, Louisiana.
Brown announces his presence on the opening cut, the slow late-night blues "Here Am I," showcasing his vocal abilities and tasty blues guitar licks.
"Tippin' In" is a great jazzy instrumental that borrows heavily from Duke Ellington. This version is made more distinctive by the pedal steel work of Don Buzard and a nice flute solo from Bobby Campo.
Just when you're ready to file this album under the blues/swing category, Brown picks up the fiddle for a Cajun country instrumental number, "When My Blue Moon Turns To Gold Again."
Switching gears again, Brown does a solid Sonny Terry impression on the harmonica, followed by a swinging arrangement from the band, on the original tune "Street Corner."
Gatemouth's frantic jazzy guitar instrumental "Pressure Cooker" is another highlight. This song recalls the guitar work on his biggest Duke/Peacock hit, "Okee Dokee Stomp." Keeping up the same pace is an old Bill Doggett instrumental "Honey Boy." Buzard again chips in with smokin' steel guitar.
Brown then picks up the mandola for some incredible pickin' on the Bob Wills classic "Take Me Back To Tulsa." The album closes with Gatemouth's intense country fiddling on the traditional number "Up Jumped The Devil."
If you're already a fan of Gatemouth Brown's music and you don't have this album, then it's an absolutely essential purchase. If you're not familiar with this man's music, then Blackjack is a very good place to start.
--- Bill Mitchell
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