DOWN HOME CHROME

Junior Brown

It's a good thing that "guit-steel" picker Junior Brown self-produced "Down Home Chrome." Otherwise, he might never have gotten the job done.

This way, he managed to avoid a lot of pestering questions a producer might have asked, like: What should we sequence first? The honky-tonk novelty, the patriotic tear-jerker, the yearning country duet, the horn-powered blues, the crooning jazz ballad or the faithful, distortion-drenched reprise of "Foxey Lady?" Or: Tell me again, Junior -- why the Hendrix homage?

Agreeing with Brown's scattershot approach would be a lot easier if the original songs rose to the level of his early recordings, but "Down Home Chrome" gets off to a shaky start. "Little Rivi-Airhead," starring a none-too-bright, hot rod-drivin' gal -- "She's got a head full of air and a foot full of lead" -- loses traction fast. Then along comes "It Hurts When I Do That," a lonesome lament for a Siamese cat that -- well, maybe it'll be good for a few laughs in concert.

"Two Rons Don't Make It Right," on the other hand, is genuinely clever stuff, involving a honky-tonk case of mistaken identity and possible infidelity. Brown's hard-core country roots shine through several other performances, including the George Jones cover "The Bridge Washed Out" and the sentimental duet "Let's Go Back," which features his wife and rhythm guitarist, Tanya Rae Brown. The latter recalls classic Jones and Tammy Wynette pairings.

As for Brown's reputation for doubling the pleasure of guitar fans, it remains intact. Playing "Big Red," his hybrid of a standard guitar and lap steel guitar, he turns in some astonishing fretwork while crisscrossing country, blues, jazz and rock borders. When the dust settles, it's clear that there's a lot to enjoy on "Down Home Chrome," but there's plenty to skip over, too.

-- Mike Joyce

Junior Brown is scheduled to appear Oct. 5 at the Birchmere.

A VALID PATH

Alan Parsons

Ever wonder what the hobbit DJs would spin if you went clubbing in downtown Middle-Earth? How lucky, then, that veteran art-rock keyboardist Alan Parsons has concocted this freaky, geeky foray into Goth atmospherics and techno beats.

Parsons knows his way around a set of headphones. A 10-time Grammy nominee and respected engineer, he twiddled knobs on Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon" (1973) before landing audiophile-pleasing hits of his own, such as 1982's "Eye in the Sky," in his Alan Parsons Project.

Still, 55-year-olds typically aren't sought-after electronica musicians. So between flourishes from contemporary guests such as Uberzone and the Crystal Method, Parsons wisely reconnects with his past by updating old Project standards: "Mammagamma '04" and "A Recurring Dream Within a Dream," which seems to be sung by robots.

Aside from sheer nerdiness, consistency is a problem. Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour opens the album by lending a cool hand to the trippy, nine-minute instrumental "Return to Tunguska." But Parsons follows with pure pop sap -- "More Lost Without You," on which vocalist P.J. Olsson stakes his claim to be the new singer for Bud Light's "Real Men of Genius" campaign.

By the time we reach the chanting, apparently by robe-wearing monk dudes, on the final epic, "Chomolungma," it's tough not to laugh. Imagine Bilbo Baggins rave-dancing at a "Dungeons & Dragons" house party . . . at least until a large dog starts barking at the end of the CD. That's when any smart hobbit would run -- which is what all but Parsons die-hards should probably do.

-- Michael Deeds

Junior Brown and "Big Red," his hybrid guitar.