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OLI BROWN Here I Am Ruf Records RUF1178 (2012)

Oli Brown

'Here I Am' is 22 year old Oli Brown's third and best album so far. It may not quite be the definitive recording of his career but it comes pretty damn close with moments of real intensity and inspiration as he updates his primal funky blues roots and transforms them into contemporary cutting edge music.

It's an album that deserved its 5 stars as much for its sense of adventure and originality as for its actual conception.

Much like his burgeoning career as a whole, 'Here I Am' is an exponential function of Oli's adventurous take on the blues. It's guitar driven music which boldly embraces the new directions in which his riffs, grooves, rhythms, feelings and lyrical rhymes take him.

From the grungy opening chords of the title track, Oli appears to be moving into in a heavier direction with Zeppelin riffs as part of a well paced stop-time groove with soaring guitar. But 'Here I Am' is anything but a one dimensional album as Oli explores different tones, moods and grooves all infused with enough variety and light and shade to showcase the many layers of his oeuvre.

The dark grungy, riff driven 'Manic Bloom' for example, contrast sharply with the crisp light touch and catchy pop chorus of the relationship song 'All We Had To Give'. Then there's the spiky riff driven 'Remedy' and the very original 'Light As A Feather' which is a staccato, tension breaking duet with Danni Wilde.

And it is this adventurous approach that makes 'Here I Am' such an eloquent statement of his own unique style, exemplified by his opening mission statement; 'Here I am with a new intention of being just who I want to be, a little change wouldn't do any harm so I'm going to take a chance and see'.

'Here I am' is an updated calling card by a fast maturing artist who is still developing exciting new aspects of his own style. Oli's rapped out vocals with confessional lyrics, stop-time dynamics and rip snorting guitar lines form part of a subtly shaped but sometimes brusque self confident schema.

Sure there are sundry guitar influences at play, ranging from soulful feel of Derek Trucks and the intensity of Reef to the deep tone of Warren Haynes, and the occasional expansive lines reminiscent of the Bramhall/Sexton axis of the Arc Angels and the rootsy feel of Devon Allman. You pays your money you takes your choice, but in truth Oli's has never really needed the props of being a guitar hero or this year's model to help fashion his own style. His eloquent guitar work perfectly complements his expressive vocals and brings an extra impact and colour to the songs.

'Here I Am' is a quantum leap for Oli from the strong songs to drummer Wayne Proctor's nuanced production work which forges a nice balance between the band's intuitive interplay and Oli's expressive vocals and ripping guitar work.

This is bristling fully realised self confident music that breathes free of the deadening hand of the studio environment.

Oli makes an eloquent statement as to who he really is on the opening title track and makes the most of the clever dichotomy between the descending lascivious lyrics and the contrasting ascending guitar line on 'Thinking About You', as part of a languid but potent shuffle.

The slick key change kicks the song up to another level before the band slips into the mid-paced, funky groove of 'You Can Only Blame Yourself' which is full of a rhythmic vocal delivery and a sweeping chorus. Oli weaves in and out of the track with a fluid deep toned solo that brings an uplifting quality to the song.

Much of the music sounds like a mature artist with material worthy of someone well beyond his tender years. It's the stuff of relentless road work played by a tour band for who a recording session is a mere extension of their day job.

The album also benefits from a natural flow and thoughtful sequencing as the band slips from the rocking 'Start It Again' into the languid groove of 'Devil In Me' which owes much to The Hoax and makes the most of Oli's rhythmic sense of delivery on a lilting swampy outing with a poppy refrain.

And having cast his stylistic net far and wide, the album returns to its blues anchor on the slow smouldering 'I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know', which features one of Oli's very best vocal performances.

The percussive groove, jaunty feel and sing-along vocals of the book-end 'Solid Ground' is given an extra lyrical harp input by guest Paul Jones and helps to smoothly round off an album full of substance and depth.


Review by Pete Feenstra


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***** Out of this world | **** Pretty damn fine |
*** OK, approach with caution unless you are a fan |
** Instant bargain bin fodder | * Ugly. Just ugly

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