Joe Brown

On Stage

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Joe Brown's earliest official live album was a hit-or-miss affair for modern listeners, mostly because of the period early-'60s sensibilities -- about pop and novelty tunes -- that tended to crowd out the rock & roll that drew most people (at least, those under 40) to check him out in the first place. There's still some digression on this 1991 live recording, but the presence of the hymn "All Things Bright and Beautiful" isn't nearly as jarring, juxtaposed as it is with a first-rate performance of "Get Rhythm," not to mention Brown's biggest hit, "Picture of You," and his rendition of "Sea of Heartbreak." And yes, he does do "Hava Nagila" (which was a hit in England), but it's sandwiched in between "That'll Be the Day" and "The Battle of New Orleans." Throughout the performance, Brown -- sharing the guitar chores with Paul J. Bangash, Pete Brown, and Neil P. Gauntlett, and supported by Herbie Flowers on bass with Richard Newman on the drums -- never strays too far from the virtuoso rock & roll on which his reputation was built, even when he's running through numbers in "I'm Henry the Eighth I Am." And on "Is a Bluebird Blue?" they plunge into totally convincing electric blues that would've astounded Brown's early-'60s audience. The fidelity is superb, and the annotation is excellent. Indeed, for those who are just discovering Brown's work, based on his reputation, this could be the best place to start in terms of understanding his musical origins and reconciling them with contemporary expectations.

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