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Phil Brown


Did you ever wonder what a David Bowie record would sound like with Jeff Beck playing on it? Wonder no more--just listen to "Heaven" on Phil Brown’s manifestly listenable CD, Cruel Inventions. Some artists absorb their influences so deeply that they disappear into unrecognizability; some, like Brown, wear them on their sleeve. When the influences are as first rate as his (on other tunes, add at least ZZ Top and Jack Bruce to Beck and Bowie), it can be tremendously appealing. Too, Brown seems to acknowledge his mentors: a line about "diggin' in the dirt" nods to the Peter Gabriel groove of the aforementioned tune, while a reference to "heroes" would lead one to imagine that the guitarist is aware of the vocal sound he is aping. If his guitar stylings recall Beck as often as Billy Gibbons ("The Charmed Life") it is because...well, he can, something not many guitarists can claim.

Cruel Inventions excels in the two areas where most "guitar player" records fall short: singing and songs. In any sane world, "Heaven," "The Charmed Life," and the funky-but-chic "La-Lah Land" would be top forty hits. Who knows, it could still happen; though unabashedly middle-aged, Brown is just now starting to catch on in France and the buzz is spreading to the States. 

Guitarists and guitar fans will go ga-ga over the Austin resident's amazing tone, his studied but not slavish Beck tribute, "Goodbye Porkpie Hat," the bluesey "Hour To Kill," and the general air of joy in all his off-kilter but tuneful solos. (They should also check out his personalized Hendrix tribute record, [the jimi project].) General music lovers will be attracted to a record with some great grooves, great vocals and most important real tunes--a rare enough combination in any genre.

Cruel Inventions is a mature work in the very best sense of the word. There is a feeling of a life lived. Though his sources may be close to the surface, his own personality shines through--something else that is too rare these days.  
• Michael Ross

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