When I was asked to review the latest Christmas album by Rick Brown, I thought I knew what I was in for. After all, I knew that Brown was the saxophonist for one of Fort Wayne’s longest-running bands, The Junkyard Band, and I knew that he was active in some local jazz bands, so I expected something along those lines. Instead I got Yule Rock, a twin-guitar hard rock handling of 14 holiday classics. Palm to forehead. That’s what you get for pigeon-holing people. Of course Rick Brown can play more than wind instruments! He is, after all, a professional musician in a long line of professional musicians, having played in not only The Junkyard Band but also local big hitters such as The Jay Fox Band and Not My Kids. So why should I be surprised that such a mild-mannered man can play such a mean electric guitar?Even though Yule Rock is filled with electric guitars and driving beats, it’s all done very tastefully. Each of the 14 classics covered are relatively free of distortion and fuzz and chorus and other such fancy effects. Instead you get some impressive drum fills, solid beats, a well rounded bass and usually two slightly over-driven, classic rock-toned guitars sharing harmonies of the melody line. Sometimes Brown will add orchestral bells, such as in “Carol of the Bells,” where it’s almost mandatory, and the slightly ominous “Do You Hear What I Hear?”
“Up On The Housetop” opens with strings and glockenspiel, lending a whimsical feel before the guitars start in, while the jaunty “Winter Wonderland” incorporates sleigh bells amongst its big, bouncy bass beat. Another highlight is “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” where Brown cleverly sets the melody against a “My Sharona”-like guitar figure that takes the song in an entirely new direction. “We Wish You A Merry Christmas,” like many of the other songs, is full of energy and harmless fun, evoking the joy of children coming down on Christmas morning to find a room full of presents.
Speaking of presents, Rick Brown has one for you. Or rather several presents. If you are in the mood you can stop by Mr. Music in the Dupont area or Hyde Brothers Booksellers on Wells Street and pick up a free CD of Yule Rock (quantities limited). Or you can surf over to rickbrownmusiconline.com and download the entire album, again for free! If heavy rock isn’t your thing, Brown even has a smooth jazz Christmas album (An Amethyst Christmas) and three other albums of original music, all free. As generous as he is, perhaps Rick should change his name to “Santa.”
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