Sugar Brown – Poor Lazarus | Album Review

sugarbrowncdSugar Brown – Poor Lazarus


CD: 14 Songs; 53:45 Minutes

Styles: Pre-1950’s-Style Blues, Blues Covers

As a recent Saturday Night Live sketch taught viewers worldwide, there’s heartache, and then there’s heartache. Musicians sing the blues about cheating lovers, drudgery, and being broke and hungry, not about their fantasy football team behaving in the manner of a vacuum. That’s why this magazine’s favorite genre has stood the test of time, right into the second decade of the 21st century. Canada’s Sugar Brown, real name Dr. Ken Kawashima, knows this well and seeks to preserve a pre-1950’s oeuvre in his newest album. Poor Lazarus contains five covers of the old blues masters, including songs by Frankie Lee Sims, R.L. Burnside, and Tom Waits. In his own right, Sugar Brown and his band have composed six original numbers, out of fourteen. The other three are original arrangements of classic tunes, including the title track.

According to his promotional info sheet, “The 2014 release of Sugar Brown’s debut recording, Sugar Brown’s Sad Day, stunned listeners across Canada with his ease and force in playing and singing blues. He quickly earned recognition for his classic style and raucous performances, from the media and festival bookers coast-to-coast.” That album contained Chicago blues, but Poor Lazarus features a mixture of sub-genres: blues rock, traditional electric, and even an avant-garde song in Japanese called “Tokyo Nagaremono (Tokyo Drifter)” by Hajime Kaburagi.

Accompanying Sugar Brown, as he performs on lead vocals and guitar, are harmonica maestro Bharath Rajakumar; drummer Art Makris; Julia Narveson on upright bass, rhythm guitar, acoustic guitar, saxophone, and whistle; Pat Phillips on drums, percussion and vibes; Tyler Stoddart on maracas; and Brad Levia, Tyler Stoddart, and Charles Chiu on background vocals.

The three songs below are originals by Sugar Brown, with near-perfect American blues sound:

Track 02: “Meet Me in the Country” – This Chicago-style selection showcases Kawashima’s best guitar, and explores a classic theme: “Well, my thoughts are getting dusty. My tires kick up gravel on the road. I’m looking for some shade; I got to take off my heavy load.” If one didn’t know better, one might think this was an obscure release from Chess Records in its heyday.

Track 07: “Blue Lights Hooker” – Some of the finest blues songs of all time have been instrumentals. Lucky number seven puts Bharath Rajakumar’s chromatic harp on magnificent display. It roils with passion, echoing and trilling with a life of its own. If any track on this CD deserves national airplay, it’s this one.

Track 09: “Train Sixty-Four” – More harmonica magic ensues two songs later, on this homage to one special train, and its cherished passenger. Only you, only you can show me how to get that levitation in love right here, and right now. I got to see my baby. Get on that Train 64.” Julia Narveson and Art Maky provide skillful backup on upright bass and drums.

Vocally, Sugar Brown may be a tad hard to understand, but that’s understandable. He clearly comprehends the emotion that infuses blues, as do the comrades in his band.  Poor Lazarus sure brings pre-1950’s-style blues back to life!

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