‘Soul to Soul’
For more than a decade, High Country singer-songwriter and stellar guitarist Jay Brown has been recording music at his father’s Higher Ground Studios in Birmingham, Ala.
Some of those albums have been solo efforts, while others have been recorded with his two band projects: Lazybirds and Shantavaani.
Brown’s latest album, “Soul to Soul,” is kind of a mix of all three. While officially billed as a solo effort, the album includes contributions from his band mates from both groups.
Lazybirds were known for their upbeat, note-filled blues, folk and jazz, much of it influenced by music created in America during the first two-thirds of the 20th century.
“Soul to Soul” takes the Lazybirds canon and slows it down, allowing Brown to explore the space between the notes, as well as the notes themselves. This new laid-back or mellow approach to music suits Brown’s songwriting and performing skills well and allows the listener to embrace the music without feeling the need to get up and dance.
A purely acoustic album from start to finish (except for some electric guitar on “Fire in the Sky” and “Broken Wing”), “Soul to Soul” features Brown’s trademark guitar, harmonica and vocals, fleshed out with stunning performances by guest musicians, including violinist Chris Brown, fiddler Alfred Michels, drummer James T. Browne, cellist Sarah Moore, bassist Mitchell Johnston, bassist Roy Brown, tabla player Dexter Raghunanan, bassist Sarah Carlisle, harmonium player Aditi Sethi and percussionist Matthew Cox.
The title of the album also refers to two people to whom the album is dedicated: Carmela Costello and Jack Gardner. The song, “Carmela,” is an old-fashioned piano ballad, sweet and softly sad, about Costello and what she meant to Brown. It even includes a chorus sung by her children and grandchildren.
“Aditi” is a 10-minute long “raga” or Indian-style instrumental chordal exploration in the manner of John McLaughlin and Shakti.
Even the bluesier numbers on “Soul to Soul” have a laid-back feel to them. “Down Spiral Blues” is a slow shuffling number with a J.J. Cale feel to it, while “Documentation Blues” is a rollicking piano-led honky-tonk tune.
The album closes with “Broken Wing,” a beautiful guitar and cello-driven song that builds from a quiet beginning to a glorious conclusion.
Lyrically, Brown explores the themes of love and family on “Soul to Soul,” and he does so sincerely with occasional dollops of his signature playful wittiness.
Praise for Brown’s previous musical exploits has come from many sources. His sound has been described as “feel-good music that reaches deep into your soul” by Josh Day, percussionist for New Soul Underground and the Sara Bareilles Band.
Ketch Secor of Old Crow Medicine Show said, “The secret is out. Jay Brown is the most authentic songster to come out of the North Carolina High Country since a man named Doc Watson.”
On “Soul to Soul,” Brown proves why other musicians look to him for inspiration.
“Soul to Soul” is available through Brown’s website at http://www.jaybrownmusic.com.