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Live at last

Reviewed November 2005

Live at the Continental Club: The Austin Experience
Live at the Continental Club: The Austin Experience
By Junior Brown

Telarc Records: 2005

To hear sound clips or learn more about this release, Turbula recommends viewing its Amazon.com entry.

Before Junior Brown first captured national attention in 1993 with his twin-neck "guit-steel" and Ernest Tubb-like baritone, he was a fixture on the eclectic Austin, Texas, music scene. The proving ground for his musical blend of honky-tonk, tongue-in-cheek lyrics and deft fretboard work was the Continental Club. So it's no surprise Brown returned to his one-time home base earlier this year to record his first live album.

Those who have had the opportunity to see Brown live have been waiting for a collection like "Live at the Continental Club: The Austin Experience." The concert stage provides a setting where this six-string and slide guitar master can take a three-minute-plus studio cut like "I Hung It Up" and turn it into an eight-minute marathon showcasing the kind of picking that sets him miles apart from most everyone else sharing space in the country music bins.

The only real complaint with "The Austin Experience" is there are too few moments where Brown breaks loose on the guit-steel and too few surprises. The entire set clocks in at under an hour and only a handful of the dozen selections break the four-minute mark. Still, along the way, Brown serves up a number of familiar tunes, a few twists and a special guest – legendary Tex-Mex accordionist Flaco Jimenez.

Although his voice sounds a little ragged around the edges when he kicks things off with such favorites as "Broke Down South of Dallas" and "My Wife Thinks You're Dead," Brown certainly hits his stride on "I Hung It Up." After Jimenez joins him onstage, Brown shows a mastery of Spanish and a love of border music with his performance on "Juan Charasquado."

Those expecting to hear some of Brown's better-known songs are rewarded with "Highway Patrol" and "Gotta Get Up Every Morning." And those looking to hear something new are treated to the previously unrecorded "Lifeguard Larry."

The highlight comes at the end with the nearly 10-minute "Rock and Roll Guitar Medley." Sure, Brown recorded Jimi Hendrix's "Foxy Lady" for his 2004 Telarc debut, "Down Home Chrome." But that's not how he defines rock guitar here. Instead, he dips into the Ventures' catalog again as he did when he included "Walk, Don't Run" in the "Surf Music Medley" that became an early concert favorite and appeared on "Semi Crazy" in 1996. This time around he mixes a surf-music reading of "Secret Agent Man" with "Lullaby of the Leaves," "Apache" and "Bulldog."

"Live at the Continental Club: The Austin Experience" may not be the best place to start for the uninitiated. Brown's "Greatest Hits" collection, his all-too-brief Curb Records farewell, serves that purpose. But those who have been enjoying Junior Brown's music for more than a decade, the live album is a good listen and a good reason to pop open a long neck.

Review by Don Weiner. Don is a writer and editor based in Scottsdale, Ariz.

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