Junior Brown – “Guit With It” (1993)

Sometimes the opening band at a show is pretty good. Sometimes they’re not. Every now and again, though, you get surprised, and perhaps even fall in love. We saw Hillstomp open for Devil Makes Three and have seen the duo at least a half dozen times since. We saw Maroon 5, before they were a thing, open for Matchbox Twenty and they blew the doors off. And then there was Cowboy Mouth show at Seattle’s coolest little venue Neumos, when onto the stage walks a guy in slacks, a blazer, and a cowboy hat, who proceeds to put his combo guitar and lap steel guitar onto a stand and sits on a chair. Accompanying him are a bass player and a drummer who only has one snare drum. By the end of the first song Junior Brown had the crowd eating out of his hand with his talent and wit and humor.

I’m not sure why it took me so long to finally track down on of Junior Brown’s records, though to be fair it looks like 1993s Guit With It is the only full-length to ever make it onto wax. And man, this is as good as I remember. I have to confess I’m particularly attracted to his funnier songs. These aren’t overtly comedic in the style of Weird Al, but more a bit sly, and in some cases it isn’t the words themselves but the way Junior Brown drawls them. In “Highway Patrol” the narrator tells us but I’ll do my best to keep you drivin’ slow – I’m just doin’ my job / I’m on the highway patrol. The cops show up in “Party Lights” too – But there’s another kind of party lights / That I can’t stand to see / ‘Cause there’s a man in a patrol car / And he don’t want to party with me. Brown reaches his apex on his song about any ex aptly titled “My Wife Thinks You’re Dead” – We’ll have to say hello maybe some other time instead / ‘Cause you’re wanted by the po-lice / And my wife thinks you’re dead. But there’s some sweetness here, such as the duet with Tanya Rae Brown “So Close Yet So Far Away” and numbers like “Names And Addresses”. And that guitar sound… oh so sweet.

If you ever get a chance, give ol’ Junior a listen. And watch out for those red and white party lights, kids…

Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo de Silos – “Chant” (1994)

And now for something completely different.

Gregorian chants.

I spent quite a number of years attending Catholic schools.  Not that we were a particularly church-going family, because we weren’t.  But I did spend probably eight years in parochial schools, and that certainly contributed to my outlook on a lot of things in life.  If there was one aspect of the whole Catholocism thing that always seemed interesting, it was the sheer age of it all – the old churches, legends, and trappings that gave everything sort of an ancient formality.  And one of those anachronistic kinds of things was the sort of chanting style of singing, one that is perhaps most commonly known as “Gregorian chanting”. 

I don’t remember exactly where I first heard about the Chant album that came out in 1994, but I think it was a review/article in Rolling Stone or something.  It sounded so incredibly unusual that I immediately decided I had to track it down, which turned out to not be so difficult since it sort of blew up – it’s sold literally millions of copies world-wide over the years, and there was a full display of it at a local CD store (Silver Platters… back when they were a CD-only store (hence the name “Silver Patters”…)).


Chant always captivates me, every single time I listen to it.  There is an odd soothing power in these songs, a simplicity and sincerety that runs so deep you can’t help but feel the music inside you.  I don’t speak Latin, so I have no idea what these songs are about.  I mean, they’re obviously religious and probably super old, but I don’t think you need to have even a clue as to what they’re singing about to appreciate the beauty of the sound.  I’ve written before that to me the human voice in music is more like another type of musical instrument to my ears than a way of transmitting a message, with the vocals perceived as notes instead of words.  And Chant may represent the apex of that, with no musical accompanyment, nothing more than human voices in space.  Whether they are reaching out in a sort of desperation on “Anon:  Spiritus Domini” or rising toward a sublime pinnacle before dropping off just as they should be peaking on “Anon:  Puer Natus Est Nobis” (the absolute best song on the album, bar none), the Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo de Silos achieve a level of emotional nirvana difficult to duplicate.  So much so in fact that I don’t think their follow up albums that I’ve heard, Chant Noël: Chants For The Holiday Season (1994) and Chant II (1995), even come close to the near perfection of the original.  They’re good, but but they don’t seem to flow as well as the songs on Chant.

I feel like I shouldn’t like Gregorian chanting, but to deny that I do, would just be foolish.  This is a truly transformative album, one that can take you to a completely different place in your mind, carried away by the monk’s voices, if you’ll open yourself up to it.  Religious or not, it’s worth the time to take a listen.