Hot Rod Homeboy 

Guitar hero Junior Brown returns to Richmond.

To watch his fingers dance between the necks, deftly pulling a slide from a felt hole in the guitar and flipping a switch within the space of a single note, is alone worth the price of admission. And the songs aren't bad either. Funny odes to truck drivers, state troopers and bamboozling women who party too hard. For the latter, see "Gotta Get Up Every Morning Just To Say Goodnight To You."

Brown is a welcome relief to people who think modern country falls somewhere between a soap opera and a Wal-Mart commercial.

Originally a back-up musician, Brown earned his chops playing, as he puts it, "six nights a week in every honky-tonk in the southwest during the 1970s." Today his music is a unique blend of Western swing, Hawaiian, Dixieland jazz, rock, blues and country that Brown says stems from his different personalities and tastes.

"I go off on a tangent and spend a year in my room learning how to play some new style," he says. His latest album, "Down Home Chrome," features a stark contrast of traditional country, jump blues and a heavy dose of rock licks, including a straightforward cover of Hendrix's "Foxy Lady."

"The Hendrix tune was a live favorite we included for kicks," Brown says. "Some of the original songs were old ones from the pile that I slapped a fresh coat of paint on."

Once again Brown enlisted the studio help of blind pianist Hargus "Pig" Robbins, arguably the most famous Nashville session player in history. Robbins has played on a treasure trove of classic recordings from Patsy Cline and George Jones to Bob Dylan and even Ween's "Golden Country Greats."

"Pig lays it down," Brown explains. "It's like a house, he and the rhythm section put a strong foundation first."

There's a droll humor to many of Brown's most memorable tunes. He says the style was partly influenced by what he calls early novelty tunes such as Bob Wills' version of "Roly Poly," which Brown sings over the phone: "Roly Poly/Daddy's little fatty/Fatty's gonna be a man someday."

"There's nothing wrong with imitation as long as you go through the process. Write the song, interpret and let the art speak for itself," Brown says.

On his current tour, Brown is performing some "corridos," or folk stories sung in Spanish that he says remind him of growing up in New Mexico.

Though his Grammy-nominated music has been branded "alternative country" and doesn't get much airtime, Brown doesn't mind.

"It's still a grassroots thing," he says. "I do what I can. There's some DJs who play my music and most of my fans stay with me, but there's always a new way to play a song live. As long as you love it and are faithful to it, it's a way of growing." S

Junior Brown plays at the Canal Club Friday, Nov. 19. Tickets are $16 in advance or $18 at the door and doors opens at 8 p.m. For more information go to www.thecanalclub.com.

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