Vice President Cheney and Sen. John Edwards found almost nothing on which they agreed during their debate Tuesday night. Too bad the showdown wasn't held at the Birchmere. Then at least the candidates would have concurred on this: Junior Brown is one amazing guitar player.
The 51-year-old country artist is also a witty songwriter and has a voice as deep and rich as an oil well. But it is his nimble, innovative guitar playing -- whether speeding through raw, unpolished terrain or navigating the most delicate of passages -- that sets him apart from so many of his peers.
It's tempting to describe Brown as a mutant guitar player, but that could give people the wrong idea. It is not Brown but his oddly configured guitar that looks to have arrived from another planet. A double-neck "guit-steel," it combines a traditional guitar with a steel guitar and boasts a wild, rich tone that Brown manipulates to sound like everything from a moaning train whistle to an urgent police siren to the lonesome twangy echo of country's past. That telltale twang was front and center on the deliciously funny "My Wife Thinks You're Dead," a high-speed "Highway Patrol" and the down-and-out "Long Walk Back to San Antone."
As good as those and many other songs were, perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of Brown's 90-minute performance was just watching his fleet fingers dart up and down the necks of his guitar. It was like watching squirrels trying to cross a highway. Except in Brown's case, the results were always triumphant. What a rush to see and hear an instrument played with such mastery and verve.
-- Joe Heim