Copper Creek CCCD-0135
review by Art Menius
If for nothing else Hylo Brown, whose career lasted from the 1950s through the mid-1980s, will remain in memory for waxing perhaps the first bluegrass LP recorded as such, rather than just consisting of a random bunch of singles. That 1958 Capitol album, mentioned with humorous frequency the August 1959 concert preserved on Copper Creek’s In Concert, consisted of a dozen traditional tunes in contrast to Brown’s more contemporary 45’s. Available on German CD, it remains a high point for first bluegrass generation reinvention of roots material.
One record should not prove synonymous with a five decade career. In the thorough liner notes historian Ivan Tribe speculates about the what-if nature of Brown’s life. He waxed two other Capitol LP’s and perhaps a dozen other albums. He composed several songs, including Jimmy Martin’s classic “Grand Ole Opry” song. Brown served as a member of Flatt & Scruggs’ Foggy Mountain Boys until the demands of their live TV circuit created the need for a second Martha White Flour-sponsored unit. That duty fell to Brown and his red-hot Timberliners. About that time of this concert, after less than two years of touring and television, the advent of videotape ended the need for the second team. Brown would keep at it for a quarter-century, but age robbed him of the remarkable vocal range that gave him the moniker “Hylo.”
On this summer 1959 day at Rising Sun, Maryland’s New River Ranch, however, Brown was at full force as a classic bluegrass vocalist. “Cabin on the Hill,” introduced into bluegrass by Brown, who sang tenor on Flatt & Scruggs’ recording, provides a showcase explaining why it was his most popular number. Brown displays a penchant for older medium tempo songs like “Put My Little Shoes Away” and “The Girl in the Blue Velvet Band” that will remind many listeners of the better known Mac Wiseman. Wiseman, in fact, sang lead on Bill Monroe’s recording of the latter title, yet Brown had learned it long before from his grandfather.
The Timberliners heard on this show include, besides Brown, two other holdovers from the 1958 Capitol sessions. Fiddler Tater Tate remains active in 1995 as bassman of Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys. Jim Smoak, who provides Snuffy Jenkins influenced banjo including his feature tune “Farewell Blues,” had already served as stint with Monroe and later lead the Louisiana Honeydippers.
Hylo Brown In Concert delivers that rare commodity, a good, ole fashioned bluegrass show from the days before bluegrass had been impacted by both the folk revival and its painful divorce from country music. Despite the aural glitches of 1959 field recordings and the mistakes common to untouched live shows, this music is real rural entertainment from the end of what now seems a golden age.