Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown's tough-minded approach to the blues, country, Cajun, and jazz insures a minimum of nonsense and a maximum of variety, while his virtuosity on the guitar and fiddle insures the highest standards. Nonetheless, Brown's 1997 album is a landmark for the 73-year-old picker who won a Rhythm & Blues Foundation Pioneer Award. All 13 tunes on Gate Swings find Brown working with his regular road quartet plus a 13-piece horn section, enabling him to prove that Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Lionel Hampton have been as important to his music as any bluesman or Creole fiddler. Gate Swings includes tunes by all three of those big-band leaders as well as compositions by Buddy Johnson, Percy Mayfield, Louis Jordan, and Brown himself, and they all swing with the massive force that only a big horn section can muster. Brown has leaned in this direction before, but Gate Swings is special, because it features the horn arrangements of Wardell Quezergue, an alumnus of the Dave Bartholomew band who arranged many of the best New Orleans R&B hits in the '60s and '70s.
To call the multitalented Gatemouth Brown, a mainstay of the Texas music scene for over half a century, a bluesman would be inaccurate. Not completely wrong, for Brown's influence on Texas blues has been enormous, but certainly not the whole picture. On Blackjack, Brown (who sings and plays harmonica and a plethora of stringed instruments, from guitar to viola) goes from blues ("Chickenshift") to jazz ("Honey Boy," with a nice drum solo from David Peters) to country ("Dark End of the Hallway") and back again. Not every musician can handle this kind of variety, but Brown makes it work, whether it's the straight-ahead blues of "Here Am I" or "Street Corner" (which has a great harmonica intro), the Cajun-inflected "When My Blue Moon Turns to Gold Again," or the jazz-blues feel of "Tippin' In." It's easy to see, or rather to hear, why Brown has been so influential: every track on Blackjack is performed with the deft assurance of a master.
Before Gate was able to rebuild a following stateside, he frequently toured Europe. He recorded the contents of this inexorably swinging set in France in 1973 with all-star backing by keyboardists Milt Buckner and Jay McShann, saxists Arnett Cobb and Hal Singer, among others. Brown indulges his passion for Louis Jordan by ripping through "Ain't That Just like a Woman" and "Ain't Nobody Here but Us Chickens" and exhibits his immaculate fretwork on the torrid title item.
Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown was one of the most jazz-oriented of bluesmen, a colorful guitarist and a primitive but swinging fiddler. On this release he includes many instrumental sections in his performances including four all-out boppish jazz jams ("Digging New Ground," "C-Jam Blues," "The Peeper" and the stomping "We're Outta Here"). Brown's vocals, which feature consistently intelligent lyrics ("Better Off With The Blues" is particularly memorable), are part of the music rather than the entire show; he even gives his obscure backup horns chances to solo. The set is a particularly strong example of Gatemouth Brown's music with each of the 11 selections (except perhaps for "I Will Be Your Friend," a poppish vocal duet with Michelle Shocked) being well worth hearing.
A trio of great affection, already experienced in the past with another successful record job, this time Max Ionata, Clarence Penn and Reuben Rogers are working on an original record project using the formula of the trio.
This special collector's edition contains 29 remastered recordings by Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, consisting of a selection of the magnicent early sides released between 1947 and 1960 on the Peacock and Aladdin record labels. Several of his most famous songs and enduring singles are featured on this quintessential CD, including “Dirty Work at the Crossroads,” “Midnight Hour,” “Just Before Dawn,” and “Okie Dokie Stomp,” among others. It is truly an indispensable set for any blues and R&B devotee.