Put on your rubber boots because Virgil Brawley's gonna drag us deep into the Mississippi Delta mud with his first solo release, Bottle Tree, and prepare for a soulful and spiritual trip with each step. Most of Brawley's musical output has been with his band, The Juvenators, and those who have followed the ol' blog here know of my history with them and just might have read my review of Mojo Burning. This release is for the most part an acoustic outing featuring the fine blues writing, singing, and guitar playing of Brawley, with additional instrumentation sprinkled among the eleven songs here (eight originals).
As he has on his three Juvenator discs, Brawley writes lyrics which have deep roots in personal experience and observation, and they always have a solid story line. Mojo Burning recounted a fire that took out all of his musical equipment and prized possessions and the Juvenators served it up on a blues dirged platter. On Bottle Tree, Brawley's reflections on life include painting his white house blue, searching for solid ground, looking for Little Susie, and thanking his cat for allowing him to share her home with him.
Along the way, he gets real spiritual a time or two, such as with his take on the biblical story of St. Peter in Fish Tales, that includes some nice acoustic finger picking from Steve Chester in support (he chimes in on couple of other tunes as well). Brawley's vocals have always had a world weary quality that fits the blues so well, and when that ol' spirit is moving him, then the mud gets deep. Walking Through Eden and Lightnin' Hopkins' Needed Time keeps that old time religion rolling with the former employing some sweet slide from Chis Gill's National Triolian Resophonic guitar and some slick sliding way deep in the well from Brawley's Dobro on the latter. The first is a ghostly, dreamy search for redemption and the second a shout out to Jesus to let him know that his time is needed--now.
Brawley proves that he can slip and slide on the strings pretty darn good on quite a few cuts on Bottle Tree, including on the title cut which is about spirits of a couple of different types. Seems that a bottle tree's creative purpose is to ward off evil spirits, so he adds a few of his own bottles after draining off the spirits and hopes that those dead soldiers don't become the death of him. Tyler Bridge and Ted Gainey's bass and drums add to the atmosphere here and on other tunes as well. Brawley's slide keeps Tampa Red's (who was no slouch on slide) traditional Delta Woman Blues, well, traditional and puts a light pin on Sweet Josephine, which never explicitly states that it's about a cat, but it sure sounds like a few that I have known. Hell, Virgil might have a monkey for all I know. Regardless, though, it is a tale well told.
He keeps that light touch sliding on his lament of lost tradition on Eudora's Jitney. The tune has a country flavor to it, and Brawley channels John Prine's vocal timbre on this metaphor about growing a bit long in the tooth and watching the world change for the worse. The song is about the Jitney-Jungle grocery store chain that had its birth in Jackson, Mississippi and spread out across the South, until Winn-Dixie bought out most of them. Eudora Welty made frequent trips to Jitney #14 on Fortification street in the Belhaven distict of Jackson, and her writings made it as famous as she. It's a McDade's Market now, and as Brawley writes, it may still have #14 above the entrance, but it just.."ain't Eudora's Jitney anymore".
There is a touch of Brawley's electric guitar on White House Blue, about making his disatifaction obvious, to everyone who drives past, by getting out the ol' paint brush. Jimmy Jarrat shines when given the greenlight to throw down some nice piano licks, and he does the same on the only other electric blues affair, Solid Ground on which Brawley wonders if he'll ever find again. His minor key single string work is understated, but effective--the way it's supposed to be.
Bottle Tree has captured the essence of the Delta in the writing, singing, and picking of Virgil Brawley, so get those rubber boots out--or maybe some hip waders, because he's gonna take you deep out in it before its over. Look for his stuff here: cdbaby and at The Juvenators cdbaby site.
As of May 30, 2008, I retired as a high school teacher with 29 years of sharing my knowledge of journalism, English, and world geography with Texas teenagers and eventually some of their kids (including three of my own).
This blog will provide a piece of the answer to the question I've been asked for the millionth time, "Well, what are you going to do now?"
#1 Son, John Bush, designed the title artwork several years ago and it is remarkably appropriate for this blog. Try this as a contact e-mail: rkbush51 at att dot net.