Brown is a powerful vocalist, with a sound reminiscent of Larry Sparks, with whom he once worked, and the great Ralph Stanley, who schooled Sparks at the early stage of his career.
He is supported here by a fine band, composed of talented young musicians from Jeff’s native southwestern Virginia and eastern Tennessee. Brown plays guitar, Josh Blankenship is on mandolin, Meredith Goins on fiddle, Josh Underwood on banjo, and Austin Brown on bass. Wyatt Rice provides guest support on guitar, as does Tina Steffey on clawhammer banjo.
In live shows, you might hear Jeff singing in a very primitive mountain style on a song or two, but the music here has a pronounced contemporary bluegrass vibe. Brown’s lonesome voice provides an interesting counterpoint to the more modern – but still traditional – sound of his young band.
The Sparks repertoire is represented in These Blues, and Last Day At Gettysburg, both receiving a plaintive and emotive reading. There is even a Sparks-ish guitar kickoff on Hickory Switch. But don’t take the impression that this record is a tribute, or that Brown isn’t an individual artist with his distinct style. It’s just that the influence is both obvious and profound.
Jeff also shows himself to be quite a songwriter, with four of the album’s twelve tracks being his co-writes with Becky Buller, Kris Rasnake and Greg Horn. A good example is the title track, written with Rasnake, which is right smack in the lonesome moan tradition, and Virginia I Hear You Calling Me (with Horn), telling about the love of home, with a roll call of cities and towns in the Old Dominion.
Tim Tolliver contributes two songs, the aforementioned Hickory Switch, and The Water And The Mud, which tells of a disastrous flood. A spirited rendering of Merle Haggard’s Lonesome Fugitive closes out this strong set of songs from Jeff Brown and Still Lonesome.
Blue Side Of Me is available from the band’s web site, and from popular digital download sites. Radio programmers can download the tracks from Airplay Direct.