Picks and Pans Review: Wild Kentucky Skies
Though no farm boy, Brown, who still lives in his hometown of Maceo, Ky., sings like he has surveyed a lot of acres over the backside of a mule—Hank Williams’s famed prerequisite for the job of country singer. With his high, earnest quaver, Brown, 27, is a throwback to early ’60s stars like Gene Pitney; he can also strip his voice to a dry wail and evoke the ghost of Hank. In “She’s Gone,” you can almost see the narrator’s spooked eyes as he visits his lover’s grave. This song’s a proper descendant of such great country-music spine-chillers as Dill and Wilkin’s “Long Black Veil”; certainly nobody else in Nashville today is writing anything as unabashedly gothic. Glenn D. Hardin (Elvis’s old keyboardist) plays magnificently sepulchral harmonium.
After purring along for seven cuts, Skies, Brown’s second album, kicks up a notch when it reaches the nostalgic, heartfelt “Freight Train.” Then it leaps to unanticipated heights with the last two songs, “She’s Gone” and the title track. The latter was recorded live with a big, atmospheric string section. Gliding above it, his warm tenor melting in and out of falsetto, Brown presents about as winning and sympathetic a new face as country has seen this decade. (MCA)