Dec 012007

Portrait of the artist as a young man

Greetings, fellow seekers of the occasionally rare, the frequently unusual, and the always cheap! I have returned from my peregrinations with a noteworthy artefact that I thought you and the rest of the world might enjoy — Browning Bryant‘s eponymous 1974 release on Reprise Records. Why is this record worth listening to, you ask? Because it was almost entirely written, arranged and produced by Allen Toussaint at the arguable height of his powers — and because a large portion of it was performed by funky Crescent City residents The Meters!

Portrait of the writer/producer/arranger as THE MAN

As you know, the purpose of the Thrifty Music series is not to delve into the rockeological minutiae of session detail — there are other, fine, even geekier sources for that information out there. I will tell you that this album was crafted by Toussaint while in the employ of Reprise Records as a staff producer, and was evidently the first record to be recorded at his own Sea-Saint studios. Why Reprise chose Toussaint to deliver a hit record for former child TV/country music B-lister Browning Bryant is anybody’s guess, but there you go.

Will the real Browning Bryant please stand up?

As one might imagine, the comparatively weak link on the album is Browning Bryant. For the most part, his voice is a bit thin and precious for the material. And I’ve spared you the real needle-lifters on the LP, which essentially get worse the further you drift from Allen’s strong guiding hand. (Note that I didn’t upload the other strong track from the album, “Blinded By Love”, as it’s floating around the Internet already.) My thoughts on the tracks I’m sharing follow:

Liverpool Fool

Liverpool Fool — fans of the Thrifty Music series may remember this track from the old list, where I posted it after finding an incredibly beat-up promo 45 in a junk store in rural Virginia. After falling in love with the 45, I began an intensive eBay search for the album, and managed to find it for one measly dollar, unopened! Thanks to the Internet, this album has since been discovered by hordes of Toussaint fans, and those days of cheap discovery are over. I believe the least expensive version of this album you can find now is a Japanese CD pressing that’ll cost you $39 and up. Anyhow, here’s my rip from my LP — literally the first time this (or any of these other tracks) was ever played on a record player!

I’ve said it before, but I just love this song — I have a hard time understanding why it wasn’t a hit, for crying out loud! It’s funky, swinging, pleasant, melodious… it’s got it all!

This Is My Day

Next up: This Is My Day — what a winner, and a huge triumph of pop music arrangement. Notice how the outchorus takes the track from dreamy, quasi-swamp psychedelia into foot-stompin’, field-hollerin’, biscuit-eatin’ goodness. Brilliant!

You Might Say

You Might Say — once you get past Browning’s inept soul ululations, this track really blossoms. Is it pop? Sure! Is it soul? Yeah! Is it funk? Yup. How about ska? Ska?! Well, yeah, that, too!

Leave the Rest to Molly

Leave the Rest to Molly — how many of you agree with me that this should’ve ended up on a Levon Helm album? Man, he would’ve knocked this one out of the park! In Browning’s hands, it’s a ground-rule double at best.

Anyhow, folks, there may be one or two other tracks worth listening to on the album, but these are the best of the bunch. As always, I’d be curious to get your thoughts here.




  11 Responses to “Thrifty Music, Vol. 10: Browning Bryant and (Mostly) Allen Toussaint”

  1. hrrundivbakshi

    Rick, you’ve been duckin’ and hidin’ from me lately. I want your thoughts! You, too, BigSteve — as our resident New Orleans-ian, you gotta represent!


  2. Mr. Moderator

    This stuff’s pretty cool, HVB. Thanks for sharing. I like how flat and unengaged the production is in conjunction with the guy’s voice. You ask why some of these songs weren’t major hits, though? I think it’s because the guy sings like he’s waiting for his pubic hair to grow in. Somehow the backing tracks sound like they were laid down with the musicians having no knowledge of or experience with the singer.

  3. hrrundivbakshi

    You’re not far off about Browning’s, uh, pubes. He was 15 going on 16 when he recorded it. Scouring the Web for more info on this obscure LP, I found numerous references to how well he pulls this album off, given his tender years. I suppose that’s true, but he still sounds like… well, you know what he sounds like? An American Idol finalist! Yeah, an American Idol finalist in the hands of one of the greatest producer/arrangers in American pop history. What you get, as you discovered, is a strange mixed bag of goodness.

    Thanks for your thoughts.

  4. Mr. Moderator

    I didn’t know he was that young! It’s pretty cool in an alien/Roy Wood way (ie, not musically but in terms of detached-yet-passionate vibe).

    That one shot of Browning has me thinking of Jimmy Osmond, and for THAT I’m NOT happy:)

    Whatever happened to him? Have you found traces of more recent recordings? Facial hair?

  5. dbuskirk

    Aw, don’t you let these sourpusses stifle your enthusiasm HVB, this is a pretty prime rediscovery. “Liverpool Fool” is a stone hit in my book (“Ordinary Joe” by Terry Callier is a similar non-hit blockbuster). The person I was reminded of was Todd Rundgren, and with that I mean the blue-eyed soul side of him that I always liked. Did we ascertain that it was the Meters backing Bryant up? Anyway, thanks for diggin this up.

  6. “Liverpool Fool” and “You Might Say” are stone winners. This is pop, as someone once said. I’m tempted to call “You Might Say” the great missing bonus track of Boz Scaggs’s Silk Degrees.

    I’m less enchanted by the other two. “This Is My Day” is OK, but I keep wanting to hear Allen Toussaint sing it. (Does anyone know whether he ever did? I know at least a couple of the songs on that record he did with Elvis Costello were old solo songs. I never did finish listening to that record once I heard some of the original versions.) If I had to play the what-other-thing-it-sounds-like deal, I’d call it a decent 1974 Chicago track.
    “Leave the Rest to Molly” would be better in Levon Helm’s hands, but I’ve never been too big on that whole Helm/Band axis. On the other songs, even “This Is My Day,” Bryant manages not to try to be something he’s not, so his young whiteness works, and if anything shows the universality of The Meters’ grooviness. Unfortunately, on this one he’s in Taylor Hicks territory.

    I understand why no comments are allowed on the Evel Knievel thread, but man I was pumped a few years ago when I found out he and I had the same birthdate. I’ve got a pretty lame birthday for famous people.
    (By the way, for anyone who knows anything about astrology out there, I say the fact that Evel Knievel and Chuck Berry are Libras puts a serious dent in the credence due the whole discipline.)

    He was a man, take him for all in all. I shall not look upon a guy who offered his 8-year-olds $20 if they could successfully punch him in the nose again.

  7. You know what I forgot to say about these songs (especially the two winners)? They’re smart. Without their being self-consciously, or even unconsciously, intellectual, they just make me say, “Damn, some SMART people made this record.”

    Why do I think that? I honestly don’t know. Any ideas?

  8. BigSteve

    I think they seem smart because the pieces fit together so well, and they do so because the players in question had been working together for a while. And because Toussaint’s piano playing is just so elegant.

    At first I felt like the production sounded way too careful. But once I turned it up it sounded like the bass and drums were the lead instruments, and if Modeliste and Porter are playing them that can only be a good thing. The horns do sound like they’re recorded from 50 yards away for some reason.

    The big problem obviously is the kid’s voice. He doesn’t embarrass himself badly, but he’s double-tracked to cover for the vocal thinness. The vocals are way up in the mix too, I guess because that’s what you do when you’re trying to make a teen heartthrob into a singing star.

    I wonder who had the brilliant idea to hook the kid up with Toussaint, and I wonder if he kept his job when this experiment didn’t pan out.

    And just because I won’t be able to say this much longer, let me brag that I live about a mile from where Sea-Saint used to be (it had closed even before Katrina).

  9. Browning and I are related, so I’m familiar with the circumstances surrounding the recording of this album.

    When he went into the studio for this album, he’d just turned 15. My older brother was his “guardian” for most of the recording done in NOLa, and some of that done in the ATL.

    Ok, now that I’ve set the scene, let me tell you: I’m firmly convinced Allen Toussaint hosed Browning.

    Toussaint, to my belief, was only watching out for himself and didn’t care – at all – about the young kid whose career was being entrusted to him.

    Contrary to what one writer said, the musicians and Browning got to be good friends during the recording of this album. They were not just “laying down the tracks” and collecting their paychecks.

    Browning was absolutely stoked to get to play with The Meters (and the guys who made up the horn section: Carl Blouin, Clyde Kerr, Jr., Alvin Thomas, and Gary Brown), along with B.G. vocalists Mylon Lefevre, Robbie Montgomery and Jessie Smith.

    Also, Barry Bailey, later of the Atlanta Rhythm Section and Tom Robb who went on to play with The Marshall Tucker Band.

    As a previous writer stated, Allen was under contract to Reprise.

    Actually, so was Browning.

    They were, in fact, put together by the folks at Reprise. The folks at Reprise felt that Allen’s NOLa background would mesh well with the higher pitched voice BB had at the time.

    Though BB had considerable experience in the recording industry prior to this, all of that was under the guise, if you will, of a singing “prodigy.”

    He had performed on many, many television shows and recorded a couple of albums prior to this effort.

    It was hoped this album would provide a bridge from his Nashville and “singing prodigy” days, and help launch his career in the pop world.

    When the album was released, it made a dent in the top 50, or 100, or 200 (I forget which…).

    But, it did well enough that Reprise was willing to underwrite another album with Allen at the helm (keep in mind this was back in the day when record companies would invest time and money in an artist, rather than try to recoup their investment the first album out of the box).

    But, when Allen sold “Blinded By The Light” to Johnny Winter, Browning felt like he’d been sold out.

    He lost faith in recording and decided to return to school and, later, finished college at Clemson.

    As Browning grew older, he matured, and so did his voice.

    He still records privately and has a great time at it.

    For all of you who trashed him, I hope this puts it in context, and that it prompts you to rethink your opinion.

    He’s one of many, many, many artists with great potential, who were chewed up and spit out by the music industry.

    Now, you know the story. Or, at least the story as seen from one who was close to the situation…

  10. i agree,i can hear it in the hands of levon,or for that matter zappa,sly stone,war, leon russell,neil young,or even the chili song,thanx…bones

  11. molly,i mean

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