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The Shoe Box Tapes

Searching the avenues and alleys of Austin for a true son, most roads lead directly to Bob Brown's door. He was born in River City, and except for a sideways excursion to San Francisco for a few years starting in the late '60s, has called Austin his town. And even if it was not always mentioned in the most loving terms, Brown is a central Texan to the core. And the man also happens to be one of the very best singer-songwriters who ever had the home phone number of Oat Willie himself.

Bob Brown's songs capture the fleeting and often mercurial momentum of life and love, in a way that often feels like he is the only person who understands such imbroglios. Having been once termed the "baby beatnik" of the hipster crowd of University of Texas bohemians in the early '60s, he was able to apply his endless musical talents in a way that brought him eye-to-eye with anyone who was picking up peyote buttons and guitars back then. Once he co-founded the Conqueroo with fellow travelers Ed Guinn and Fat Charlie Prichard, the Austin music scene as we know it now was born. An old Austin Sun Music Awards ballot caption for a Conqueroo photo said: "The cause of it all." Sure 'nuff.

Maybe it's because Brown's songs run so deep and hit so hard, in many ways he has not been equaled. These recordings from the 1970s, when he'd returned from the Bay Area battles with more than a few scars, prove once and for all Brown strums and sings next to any man. "Sycamore Street," "Don't Ask Me," "I See Red (Stop the Car Renoir)," "Was That a Kiss": each and every one show why it's almost a musical crime that Bob Brown got overlooked when Waylon, Willie and the Boys were having their way with Austin. Maybe it was because Bob Brown's music extended the universe in a way that took deep reflection and wide-open openness. Or maybe it was because he was slightly adverse to mingling with humanity. We'll never know now. But then, the man is alive and kicking and while the clock is ticking, maybe it's time to once again dust off the Gibson and give it one more Texas try. Who knows: maybe Ed Guinn is also up for the gamble. The closing song on this tingling collection just happens to be Guinn's "Martha," it pointed to a perfect possibility for a follow-up album from Guinn himself: "The Pork Rind Package." Have mercy.

Bill Bentley © 2016

Bill Bentley is the head of A&R at Concord Records.

Album Cover Illustration © Gilbert Shelton

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