Question: What do you get when a pedal steel guitar player of many years puts his considerable musical abilities toward creating a CD?
Answer: A sizzling, yet subtle group of 10 songs that has echoes of the many types of country music that have permeated the airwaves since the inception of the genre.
Right off the bat, I must tell you that having jammed with Gene Brown on more than one occasion, I have a bias. I think he is one of the best pedal steel guitar players around. What I didn’t know was what a fine bass player and Dobro player he is.
And what a songwriter. This set of 10 tunes on Breakin’ Wild Horses shows his understanding and mastery of everything country music is and has been. I expected his pedal steel playing to take the fore in this project and was surprised to find it was the songs that are the focus. While his steel playing is in evidence, he shows his knowledge of what makes good music by surrounding these tunes with fine side people. The names of these people should be familiar to Yukoners: George
McConkey on harmonica, Clint Carpenter and Bob Hamilton sharing acoustic guitar rhythm and leads. Representing the ladies are Andrea McColeman on marimba and Annie Avery tickling the ivories and the Hammond B3 organ. Also, helping on keyboards, is Lawrence Gillespie. Jimmy Salt provides the rock-solid drums and Bob Hamilton does double duty by providing tasty mandolin licks. Rounding out the pack are two individuals who don’t reside in the Yukon: Calvin Volrath on fiddle and Real
Fagnan on electric lead and rhythm guitar.
The songs themselves are, in the best tradition of country music, mid-tempo story tunes about events and people that just about anybody can relate to. Harvey’s is a light-hearted look at an individual who you may have dealt with in your own life — a bit of a scoundrel, a touch of a rascal, but you still smile when he walks in the room.
When It Comes To You is the most up-tempo tune that will get your toes tappin’ and that’s all it needs to do.
Round The World seems to be a nod to the Tex-Mex style of country that Marty Robbins introduced to the world. Don Bishop lends his trumpet and McColeman’s marimba give it just the right touch. You’d think you were down in old Mexico drinking Corona and sweltering in the heat.
Other tunes are reflections of love and life with that country down-to-earth attitude.
Lady From the Night, The Truest Kind of Woman and The Kind of Man give that bittersweet flavour that country music is famous for. Yes, there has been some pain, but you pick yourself up and carry on … hopefully with a smile.
While reading the liner notes, I was taken aback at how many of the country greats Brown has performed with. If you know country music, you’ll know these names: Bobby Bare, Rose Maddox, Freddie Hart, Dave Dudley and Charlie Pride. That’s pretty good company to be in.
In terms of production, Juno award winner Bob Hamilton shows his ear just keeps getting better as the years go by. Some of these tunes require a gentle touch to make sure everything is present, but nothing gets lost. Listen to the trade off of acoustic guitar licks intertwining with Brown’s vocals and you’ll know what I mean.
I’m a little worried that you, the reader, will start to think, “Hey, this guy loves everything,” but I submit that the Yukon’s musicians and recording facilities are simply coming into their own. So pick up a copy of Gene Brown’s Breakin’ Wild Horses and find out what having country in your soul means. If you can, also catch him live with Yukon Jack just about every weekend at the Casa Loma.