Here’s To The Honky Tonks
HighTone HCD 8075
review by Art Menius
Marty Brown burst on to the country music scene and national prominence just a handful of years ago. From Maceo, Kentucky, Brown possessed all the aspects of the classic American tale. A real, Christian country boy, devoted to his family, with Woody Harrelson looks, strong songs, and an affinity for country music roots, he had spent three years going back and forth to Nashville, knocking on doors. Heck, even his parents performed country music. So Tony Brown at MCA finally gave Brown his chance, releasing High and Dry to critical claim and a flood of media attention.
You would have thought Brown was the second coming of Hank Williams and Ernest Tubb from his press clippings and TV exposure back then. Yet Nashville can prove the cruelest town any time of year. The music industry remained high on Brown as a writer, but MCA dropped him as a recording artist after his third album.
Now, Marty Brown is back with his strongest release yet, Here’s To The Honky Tonks, for the independent HighTone label. He displays all the qualities that first gained attention – good writing, emotion-packed vocals, and the ability to communicate that he believes what he sings. His music is modern country, which is to say clearly affected by Gram Parsons’ music of a quarter-century ago, but Marty Brown is no cookie-cutter hat act. Nor is Brown the true traditionalist of the E.T. school as his publicists would like us to believe. Instead, he sounds a lot like the alternative country artists of the 1970s who made great music and sold few records. The rocking leadoff cut, “Here’s To The Honky-Tonks,” and the closing ballad, “Behind Bars,” easily stand up next to Gary Stewart or Joe Ely, for example, at their best. That’s no idle compliment.
Brown has a co-writer credit on every one of these eleven songs, except for the excellent “The Day The Bootlegger Died.” Most all of his work proves well-crafted with the kind of memorable hooks that ought to earn a lot more chart success that he has received recently. The quality reflects 18 months of hard work writing for this project after moving his publishing to industry giant Bug Music. “You can find me at a table/on the B side of town/all alone on the flip side of love,” he sings on “Flip Side of Love.” “He thinks Daddy hung the moon/until momma walks in the room,” goes the hook to the touching “He Thinks Daddy Hung The Moon.” In general, his writing comes across as more personal and deeply felt than ever before.
Marty Brown is the real thing, a genuine country singer for the 1990s. Yet even he can slip into Nashville excess as on the lack luster “Laurie on my Mind” or the overwrought “There’s No Song Like A Slow Song.” Sometimes, too, one gets the feeling that you’ve heard the melodies and themes before. Nonetheless, Brown possesses the kinds of strengths and sincerity that carry the day. Contemporary country male vocalists don’t come any better.