People always ask me if I’ll ever do another installment of my “Report From The Country” series from a few years back. “More Connie Eaton,” they say. “More ‘Pass The Biscuits, Please.’” I guess I’ve been dragging my heels because the artist I want to honor is getting along in years, and I don’t want to jinx him right into the ground. But it’s almost criminal that Jim Ed Brown’s solo albums remain out of print, so I’ve decided to take my chances.
Despite lavish reissues devoted to his early work in The Browns with his sisters Bonnie & Maxine, and easy access to his duets with Helen Cornelius, Jim Ed Brown’s steady stream of solo albums from the late sixties and early seventies remains elusive to all but the most patient of Usenet users. One of two have shown up on the occasional share blog, but the majority are still out of reach.
The Browns were one of the first country artists to enjoy cross-over success, helping to define country music’s space in the mainstream. Hits like “Scarlet Ribbons,” The Old Lamplighter” and their smash folk-pop version of Edith Piaf’s “The Three Bells” were just as popular on college campuses as they were in Nashville. As a solo, Jim Ed Brown was a regular on the Grand Ole Opry, and even hosted his own syndicated television program for a few years. In 1967, his cheerful anthem to alcoholism, “Pop A Top,” became an instant classic.
After that, the hits were harder to come by. Unfortunately for Jim, he recorded for RCA-Victor and was often assigned to mainstay Elvis Presley producer, Felton Jarvis. Like Elvis, Jim’s records were suffused with the bland surface gloss that marks most of that label’s country fodder from the period. Just as they did with Elvis, RCA was content to churn out collection after faceless collection of commercial filler, overexposing the artist and bleeding his fans until the revenue stream dried up. But also like Elvis, Jim rose above the limitations of his output. The effect of Jim’s smooth control and sweet tone wedded to the wistful dark material provided for him produced unearthly performances of an odd ambivalence that sometimes borders on the surreal.
But don’t let my perverse assessment put you off these great records. The gems are plentiful and offer deep rewards. Even if all you ever hear is “Sunday In The Country,” “Barroom Pals and Good Time Gals,” or the essential “Ginger Is Gentle And Waiting For Me,” you’ll be better prepared to face the world. But if you want to mainline a full-on Jim Ed Brown overdose, you’ve found the right place.
(thanks to the LP Discography site for the cover scans.)