The Browns

Sugar Cane County

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In 1969, the career of the Browns, the family vocal group that included Maxine, sister Bonnie, and brother Jim Ed, was winding down. They were country to the core, but a series of pop hits like "The Three Bells" and "I Heard the Bluebirds Sing" had made them pop stars. In an effort to get back to country, Maxine launched a solo career and cut Sugar Cane County. It's her only solo album, and should have made her a star, but solo female artists were still rare in country music at the time. Producers Felton Jarvis (Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins) and Shelby Singleton (Jeannie C. Riley, Clyde McPhatter) gave the tunes a sparkling country/pop sheen, but Brown's vocals are as country as you can get, as are her original tunes. "Take It Out in Trade," a Brown original, is a sly double entendre marked by honky tonk piano and crackling chicken pickin' on electric guitar. "Sugar Cane County" is a down-home tune telling the familiar tale of a country girl going wrong in the big city and longing for home. "My Biggest Mistake" is, of course, the no-good man that left her sitting alone in a barroom, but she blames herself for letting some other "Miss take my place." The song sports the kind of clever lyric that used to be de rigueur in country music. Other winners include "I Want to Thank You" which is given the full pop treatment, although it's an ironic song, opening with the line "I want to thank you for not coming back to me." The studio band sounds almost psychedelic on "You'll Come A-Running" with a guitar that sounds like a sitar with skewed rhythms. "I'm in the Arms of a Heartache" wallows in the pain of an unfaithful lover, while "One Man Band" is a slow honky tonk tune that turns cheatin' songs inside out when Brown tells a would-be suitor about the "one man band I wear on the finger of my left hand. Brown's singing throughout is cool and confident, with a trace of resignation in her vocals that bring to mind Patsy Cline and Jim Reeves at their brokenhearted best. This should have been the start of a great solo career, but although it wasn't, it is a great album. Brown reissued it on her own MB Productions label in 2010 with two tracks that didn't make the original, including a countrified version of "Is That All There Is" that's just as moving at Peggy Lee's version.

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