From the very first notes, Jim Ed Brown's In Style Again is as crisp and clear as a cool Spring morning on the prairie, documented to a fare-thee-well, accessible and refreshing (main engineer: Adam Taylor). But what's astounding about the CD is the fact that this is Brown's first solo album in 30 years! All told, he was involved in the making of 22 full-length releases, 2 compilations, and 51 singles—all of them solo, duet (with Helen Cornelius), and in groups, but what happened solo-wise? Hell if I know because his was one of the most cherished voices in country music for a good long time. It's not that he hasn't been busy, though, what with hosting country music radio from Nashville and other enterprises, so perhaps it was time for a good long…hmmm, how do we put it modernly?…ah yes: a downsizing.
Brown's music is definitely country-MOR with, to my ears, strong affinities in Tennessee Ernie Ford, Pat Boone, and others of the ilk. His producer, Don Cusic, is also the main songwriter, and the guy's more than capable (and his Older Guy is going to raise a few eyebrows among the prissier of the country audiences) along with a bunch of well-chosen covers. My favorite cut is Jim Ed's duet with long-time partner Cornelius: Don't Let Me Cross Over. Like Cusic's Older Guy, Cross Over is a tad more explicit than what we've been accustomed to in ditties like Your Cheatin' Heart. It is, in fact, honest as hell in a poetic fashion, and I suspect the track will be picked up by the savvier modern country ensembles. If your pulse races just a bit while listening or if you suddenly recall a guilty moment from the past, don't seek either a doctor or a psychiatrist: Jim and Helen are singing about the human condition, and it's likely your present significant other is hiding an identical secret too.
In fact, the duet with Cornelius is my favorite of the bunch and sufficient to prompt a very strong yearning to have the two record an entire CD together again. Small wonder their work sold so well in decades past, as their voices blend beautifully, classic in every sense. It's at this point that Brown's release reaches the paramount level of a Rural Rhythms or PineCastle release. But more applause is due Cusic as well for his excellent tongue-in-cheek Am I Still Country cut, which Brown delivers very cool and collected, never for a second giving away the heretical nature of the song's tone, preserving a very quiet satiric element rare to country music save for in the work of a few of the cleverer souls in the genre…and then, of course, in a goodly share of the imperishable and sadly late Jesse Winchester, who was always more than a little the rebel while perfectly preservative of the roots that so inspired him. One can only imagine what a meeting of the two, Jim and Jesse, might have wrought.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2015, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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