New Music: Old Man Brown

Reviewer: Chris F. Williams

Baltimore based Old Man Brown are a seven piece band playing original Blues, Funk and Southern Rock. With honest songwriting and compelling musicianship, OMB are blazing their own path in the revival of music from the 1960’s and 1970’s. These guys sound like they are from the South but the band actually started playing together in New Hampshire. OMB’s front man and founder, Adam Scott-Wakefield started the band with his brother John back in 2001. The band’s name is actually a nod to Peter Brown, aka “Old Man Brown”, one of the band member’s stepfather who cleaned out his barn and offered the space for a studio. As the band began to master their sound, momentum grew and the band moved to Baltimore a few years ago for gigs in the MD/DC area. Johnny Neel, a Grammy nominated singer/song writer and producer, heard about OMB through the grapevine and liked their demo. He invited them to his recording studio in Nashville, TN to record an album and the band released their first full-length CD, Return, in 2007.

Last summer, Old Man Brown played a gig in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of D.C. every other Wednesday at Madams Organ. I’m not sure how I ran into to these guys but once I saw them live I was hooked. In a day and age where most new cookie-cutter groups releasing music have a similar sound, it was refreshing to hear a young group of guys who sounded well-polished and authentic . Of course, they played cover songs here and there. But they also played original material: mostly of which can be found on their first album Return. OMB’s sound is a sultry mix of The Allman Brothers Band, Bill Withers, The Funky Meters, and old fashioned Gospel Music. Even though it made for a late night during the week, I had no problem going to see OMB play their brand of Soul. The crowd was never big but I didn’t care. OMB was kind of like my little secret. Eventually, they added a Trumpet and Saxophone player. They were really starting to sound like a funk band. And then all of sudden, they stopped playing on Wednesdays. No more mid-week Soul music. I was furious! Old Man Brown fell off the map. I didn’t see any new gigs on their website. There were few updates on the band’s activities. Months went by. Was there a new album in the works? Did the band dismember? With only one OMB album to listen to at home, I drifted.

Fast-forward May 2010. I’m surfing the web and notice a few new tour dates for Old Man Brown. Was it true – was the band playing again? One of the tour dates was a CD release party. A few weeks later a new album, Blue Light Special, shows up for download on the Internet. I downloaded it immediately. Did OMB deliver? Absolutely. I’m genuinely impressed with their second effort. And the introduction of a trumpet and saxophone player really gives the band the extra nudge over the edge into a full band sound.

On Blue Light Special, OMB effortlessly transitions from Blues, R&B, Funk and Gospel. The genre blending is subtle with the common thread and underlying heart beat being Adam Wakefield’s soulful voice. “The Funky Grind”, the opening track, sounds like some good ol’ New Orleans Funk a la Dumsptaphunk. With Wakefield’s Hammond b-3 organ literally croaking, it’s hard to resist moving your body to the song. The album switches gear on “Do What I Do”. With a jazz-swing groove, this song is all about going out to the bars and having fun. Throughout the CD, OMB incorporates ‘breaks’ (usually toward the middle or end of songs) which allows the band to showcase their well-crafted solo instrumentation. Whether it’s the Guitar playing of Alexander Rankin and Marshall Chapman or the tight Trumpet and Tenor Sax sounds blasting from Dave Finell and Mario D’Ambrosio, the band seems to hit all the right notes. When the ‘break’ of the song finishes, OMB comes back full swing and the complexity of the arrangements is fully revealed. Listen to “Let me In” and “One Life to Live” and you’ll understand what I’m describing. On “Delivered”, Wakefield flexes his Gospel pipes and the Hammond organ really shines. “I’m a Pilgrim” is a new take (and possibly one of the most funked-out renditions I’ve heard) of an old gospel hymn. The album is rounded out with “Cradle to the Curb”; a staccato style blues song incorporating an acoustic slide guitar. All in all, Blue Light Special is a quality album. From slow-burning R&B ballads to uplifting organ-inspired Gospel tunes, Old Man Brown is banging on all cylinders. They are returning to one of their favorite D.C. bars, Madams Organ, August 14 for a show. The cover is usually only $5; a steal for the quality of music you will hear! Make sure you go see OMB and support local music!