Kenny Brown’s childhood in Nesbit, Mississippi took a radically different turn when an elderly man moved next door to the family’s house, for the man was Mississippi Joe Callicutt, a somewhat-forgotten blues legend. His influence set Brown on a blues journey that led to his “adoption” by hill country blues legend R. L. Burnside and his organizing of the North Mississippi Hill Country Picnic in Marshall County. All of the varied facets of this remarkable man’s music are in evidence on Brown’s new Devil Down Records release “Can’t Stay Long”, a double compact disc consisting of two albums, “Money Maker”, featuring the live 2010 Hill Country Picnic set of Brown with his band, and “Porch Songs”, the more intimate and introspective solo guitar set that indeed sounds as if it could have been recorded on Brown’s porch.
Brown’s band in 2010 included Luther Dickinson and Duwayne Burnside, and is a romping, electrified performance of hill country blues, which manages to be rock-and-roll in the best sense of the term. The set includes standards such as “Shake Your Money Maker”, Joe Callicutt songs like “Laughin to Keep From Cryin”, R. L. Burnside anthems like “Jumper on the Line” and Brown’s own hits like “Back to Mississippi” which was originally on his debut album. A couple of final tunes “Let’s Work Together” and “If Walls Could Talk” spring from a later R & B tradition.
“Porch Songs” is far more somber, with themes of religion and death prominent. “Jesus on the Mainline”, “Prodigal Son” and “Denomination Blues” all deal with gospel themes, and indirectly so does the tragic “Wreck on the Highway”, originally a gospel polemic against the evils of alcohol. “Shake Em” makes a frequent appearance on Kenny Brown’s live gig lists, and “Skinny Woman” exists here in an acoustic version, and is the only song to appear on both discs.
Altogether, “Can’t Stay Long” exhibits the artist as a man in transition from old blues to new blues, from the old audiences of Burnside’s generation to the young college kids from Oxford cheering for him as he plays with his band. A consummate portrait of a bluesman who is a rightful heir of the hill country blues tradition.