OSCAR BROWN JR: Between Heaven And Hell (Label: Super Bird)

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OSCAR BROWN JR: Between Heaven And Hell

Oscar Brown Jr. enjoys a unique position in black music history and though he was working and recording regularly until his death in 2005, most agree that the most significant part of his career was in the early 60s when he was signed to the mighty Columbia label. For Columbia, Brown recorded four albums and they reveal an entertainer who just couldn’t be pinned down… witness his famous vocal settings for ‘Work Song’ and ‘Watermelon Man’. If you know Brown, you’ll know that his musical roots were firmly planted in modern jazz but the new and emerging soul music had a huge influence on him too. To confuse the issue he also constantly strived to articulate the black American experience in his work and to that end he would regularly draw on wider cultural sources – poetry, musical theatre and drama amongst them. ‘Between Heaven And Hell -recorded in 1962- was Brown’s second album for Columbia and, interestingly, this is the first time it’s been reissued on CD even though it’s an almost perfect synthesis of his art – touching on all the elements we’ve just listed. For the jazzers there’s the irresistible ‘Mr. Kicks’ and ‘Hazel’s Hips’ (both arranged, by the way, by Quincy Jones). The former is still a mainstay on the jazz-dance scene while the latter oozes more real sensuality than anything contemporary R&B artists could ever dream of – despite their overt sexuality. Ballad-wise the album features the fabulous ‘Love Is Like A New Born Child’. I know of no other love song that matches its naive tenderness (catch Randy Crawford’s version too). Our man’s in more playful mood on ‘Forbidden Fruit’. Set in the Garden Of Eden, its theme sets the tone for Brown’s most famous song, ‘The Snake’ – which was to be recorded in 1963. Brown gets more political when he adds music to Gwendolyn Brook’s poem ‘ Elegy’ while tracks like ‘Excuse Me For Livin”, ‘Opportunity Please Knock’, and ‘World Full Of Grey’ speak directly of pre-Civil Rights ghetto life. We opened by saying that Oscar Brown Jr. enjoys a unique position in black music history. Sadly, too many people aren’t fully aware of his importance and artisisty. Here’s a perfect way for them to begin their acquaintance.
(BB) 4/5