Cheese Finger Brown – Low-Down People
15 songs – 42 minutes
Cheese Finger Brown is the pseudonym of Pim Zwijnenburg, a Dutch blues musician living in Finland. He wrote, performed, and recorded all of the songs on Low-Down People, an album of Mississippi Hill country-style blues given something of a modern makeover. He also created the album’s cover art, purportedly telling the back-story of Cheese Finger Brown, but actually raising (and leaving unanswered) more questions than answers.
Opening with the title track, Brown immediately lays out his stall with intertwined, hypnotic electric guitars providing a one chord backdrop over which heavily distorted vocals (as if sung through a harp mic) rasp inaudible lyrics. There is an ominous, almost threatening overtone to the music that is both thrilling and enticing and the one-chord structure lends an air of enveloping tension to the music.
Each track follows a similar formula, with slow to mid-paced songs, droning guitars, few (if any) chord changes, and discordant, distorted vocals with almost indecipherable lyrics. Brown makes use of a variety of instruments on the album, which helps to lend some light and shade to the songs. Harmonica appears in tracks like “Good Old Fashioned Murder Boogie” and “Days Of The Cruel And Greedy”. Slide guitar features in “Bend Over Mama” and “Lullaby Before I Go”. Rudimentary percussion lends drive to “Good Old Fashioned Murder Boogie”; Jew’s harp echoes in “Country Shake Down” and some instruments are simply unidentifiable (the electronic noises buried in “Dr. Jesus”, for example).
Brown’s guitar playing is particularly good throughout the album, particularly in the way the different guitars “fill in the holes” in the music, like a modern Muddy and Jimmy Rogers or a Jimmy Reed and Eddie Taylor. But, but, but….
While the musicianship on Low-Down People cannot be faulted, there is something about the album that does not quite ring true. Above all, the blues is a declaration of life. It is a rage against the dying of the light and it is truth. The CD cover notes say that Brown does not play live and, if this is correct, it perhaps explains the slight emotional distance detectable in the music. It is difficult to shake the sensation that Low-Down People is an expression of how someone thinks blues should be, rather than an artistic Cri de Coeur. This might be because of the overdubbing that is necessary on any album where one person plays all the instruments. It might also be because of the studio trickery that can over-shadow the songs themselves. The crackling, hard-to-hear vocals are striking initially but quickly start to sound affected. The spoken word “Grey Eagle” has background static across the entire track, as if to emulate early blues recordings but actually distracting from the music, while “The Big Cheese” has audience applause dubbed at the beginning and end of the song, suggesting a live recording.
If you are a fan of Hill Country Blues artists like R.L Burnside, Junior Kimbrough and Robert Belfour, you should check out this album. It is different and has many individual highlights. It may very well be to your liking. For this reviewer, however, Low-Down People is an easy album to respect, but a hard album to love.