A blues traditionalist and proud of it is Sugar Brown aka Ken Kawashima, who is also a Professor of East Asian Studies at the University of Toronto and who comes to us from Bowling Green OH via Chicago, where he played in several blues bands. For his third album, he again shows us that there is no need to stray outside the tradition to come up with contemporary blues songs. For each one of his new songs, you can hear clearly which era he’s drawn from but the music is different and fresh and the lyrics thoroughly contemporary – there are no ‘covers’ here. There are several acoustic tracks but the majority of the twelve songs are with a band, one that features Nichol Robertson on guitar; Russ Boswell, bass; Michelle Josef, drums; Julian Fauth, piano and Julia Narveson aka Minnie Heart on horns & fiddle. A special guest is guitarist Rockin’ Johnny Burgin, in whose Chicago band Sugar Brown played; they also both played behind Chicago legend Taildragger. Sugar Brown handles vocals, guitar and harmonica. Of the acoustic numbers, “Brothers” is an attractive and timely song about accepting differences done Piedmont style, Burgin duets on slide. “Hard To Love” is another acoustic highlight, ‘based on the playing of Pink Anderson & Floyd Council and Memphis Minnie & Joe McCoy’. Narveson accompanies on upright bass. The band songs work very well indeed: the opening “Hummingbird” is stone rocker, with honking baritone sax from Narveson and a solo from Burgin, based on Frankie Lee Sims, the Texas bluesman. The title song takes us to Chicago in a full band ‘homage to Little Mack Simmons’, he describes the lyrics as ‘thinking about the current degeneration of American Society in the era of Trump’ – not a happy song but powerfully done and fully worthy of being used for the title.” Bob Dylan and Tom Waits are channelled, in “Love Me Twice and “(Everybody’s scramblin’ for the same) Lousy Dime” respectively. Sugar Brown’s new constructions lend a more current flavour to the music here, “Lousy Dime” with some effective fiddle from Marveson and “Love Me Twice” borrowing from Otis Rush. With some boogie on “Looking For Two O’Clock”, some jump blues on “Dew On The Grass” and some rock ‘n’ roll on “Those Things You Said To Me”, he shows throughout how well-versed he is on the various blues styles. By drawing on this intimate knowledge, Sugar Brown has created an excellent disc. It should also be pointed out that he’s paid careful attention to the sound, using tried and true analogue recording techniques quite appropriate to his overall intent. The web site is www.sugarbrownmusic.com.

April 2018 - Christopher Darton
April 2018 - Myles Goodwyn