Review by Doug Sloan
Metronome Magazine, January 2008
Doug's Top 5
With an excellent voice, a full sounding, fingerpicked acoustic guitar, and the occasional banjo, Randy Browning delivers six well-penned originals and four covers by songwriters like Randy Newman ["Political Science"], Jean Ritchie ["Black Waters"], Huddie Ledbetter ["Bourgeois Blues"], and Dave Gordon ["Devil Take the Farmer"].
Browning is the other half of the acoustic duo 'Late Bloomers' that also features Brett Kinney, but on Radical Rags, he goes it alone and hands in a magnificent recording of heartfelt prose and nimble guitar work.
While Browning does a stellar job of interpreting the covers he chooses, it is his originals that truly stir the emotions. He has a unique gift for being candid and his honesty shines throughout his compositions.
Refreshing and original, Randy Browning has released one of the finest sounding acoustic offerings of the year.
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Excerpts from an Interview by Brian M. Owens
Metronome Magazine, February 2008
Featuring deft guitar work, inventive prose and excellent vocals, 'Radical Rags' is poised to be one of the year's best acoustic offerings. I talked with Randy Browning about his debut solo effort and the duo Late Bloomers. The following is a glimpse of our conversation...
Metronome: Where are you from? Did you grow up in a musical family?
Originally from New Hampshire, now just over the border in Southern Maine.
My dad played the B3 organ in rock bands when he was a young guy. My grandparents played too; piano and mandolin. They weren't professionals or anything, it was just for the love of doing it.
Metronome: What got you interested in playing music?
As a kid I listened a lot. I would listen with headphones on for hours at a time.
Metronome: What were you listening to?
Motown, the Beatles, the Stones, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin...
Metronome: What made you decide to play guitar?
It was a random kind of thing. I was given a small guitar as a gift, but hadn't the faintest idea how to tune it. It sat in my closet for months until we moved closer to a music store. I took it in and asked them to tune it for me. They did, and that was it. I learned a few chords, and wrote a song. I did a lot of noodling and making things up.
Metronome: What was your first professional experience as far as playing solo or with a band?
(Laughing) I was in a lot of bands before it was anywhere near professional. Garage bands and basement bands... usually wedged in between the ironing board and the washing machine.
My first professional experience was when I was in a small local studio recording a demo. The engineer had a cover band and their guitar player was moving. They asked me to sit in, and I played with them for a company Christmas party, which was my first payed gig.
Metronome: What kind of music were you playing?
A pretty wide variety... Blues-Rock and Motown, New Wave and Punk, originals, lots of what's now called 'Classic Rock'.
Metronome: Did you play electric guitar at that point?
Oh, yeah. As much electric as acoustic. I loved listening to old Steely Dan, Hendrix, Gilmour... still do.
Metronome: Did you go to Berklee?
Yes. I was self taught before then, for about 10 years. I'd learned a lot by listening, jamming, reading magazines... I was writing songs, but couldn't write them down or read music, and didn't really understand how it worked. So I went to Berklee.
Metronome: Did you complete the courses there?
Yes, I graduated. When I first started, I didn't think I could afford to do the whole thing. It was extremely expensive. I was lucky enough to get some financial aid and a small scholarship. I also had a work-study job and another part-time, off-campus job, and I'm still paying for it (laughs). Really, it was the best decision I could have made.
Metronome: That's good to hear. So you got a lot out of it?
Oh yeah, and mostly in ways I didn't expect. It opened all kinds of doors. I met people from all over the world, played with and heard musicians from everywhere. You sit next to someone from Bulgaria for a while and you're talking about music and about life, then you're jamming or recording with somebody from Serbia or Japan and it's just amazing.
Metronome: It must have really broadened your horizons?
Musically and personally, yeah, it really did.
Metronome: Berklee has a very heavy Jazz environment. Did you like Jazz before you got there, or were you converted?
(Laughs) It's funny you say that because some of the musicians I was playing with at the time said, "Don't let them change you, man. Don't come out of there sounding like every other cat that goes to Berklee." Actually, it was the variety of styles and players there that I noticed first. I didn't have much exposure to Jazz before going. My concept was limited to jazz-influenced rock like Steely Dan, Joni Mitchell, and Ricki Lee Jones... that's all I knew. I'd never listened to Miles Davis or Bill Evans. Jazz was one of those many doors that were opened and just blew my mind when I first really heard it, and it still blows my mind. Classical was the same way. It was amazing to discover. It seemed like there was so much great music in the world that I couldn't listen to it all if I had ten lifetimes. It was a great experience.
Metronome: Did Brett [Kinney], your partner in Late Bloomers, go to Berklee too?
Yes. At the time, everyone with financial aid had to watch this film about paying back your student loans... how you'll never get a job if you default, you'll never own a home... your life will be destroyed. It was like 'Reefer Madness'; made in the 50's, so bad it was funny. We met in line for that, and laughed most of the way through it.
Metronome: Did you put the duo Late Bloomers together after meeting Brett?
Not exactly. The work load was pretty heavy, so we didn't have much time to devote to outside projects. Both of us were working really hard for the first few years we knew each other, both on school work and at outside jobs. We started playing out as a duo after college.
Metronome: You've been together for quite a while?
Oh, yeah. We'll always be a duo.
Metronome: How many recordings does Late Bloomers have out?
We've released two. One in 1999 ('Late Bloomers'), and one in 2004 ('Sneakin' in the Back Door').
The time between them was really tough personally; we lost 3 of our parents within a couple of years. My mom and Brett's dad both had long illnesses before they passed, and it was a very difficult time. We took some time off to regroup. We played privately, just didn't gig as much for a while. It really put things in perspective.
Metronome: How did you come up with the name Late Bloomers?
We both got started in music, and in Folk music, later in life than a lot of players we know. We're both pretty nocturnal, too.
Metronome: How did your solo CD 'Radical Rags' come about?
In the beginning, I wasn't thinking of Radical Rags as a full-length project. It was more a series of songs that came together within a fairly short period of time.
Metronome: Did you think the material wouldn't work in a duo format?
We play some of the tunes as a duo, too. It's very cool working with Brett because we both have a lot of freedom and respect for each other. We write together, and we also write separately. The duo is ongoing, but we both have room to do other projects, too.
Metronome: You grow that way, both solo and as a duo.
Yes. It's a different kind of energy. As a player, I couldn't limit myself to solo work. It's not the same as playing with other musicians. It's great as an adjunct, but not exclusively.
Metronome: What kind of guitars did you play on Radical Rags?
Acoustic wise, a hybrid that's bigger than an OM but smaller than a Dreadnought. My Strat was in the shop at the time, so I borrowed a T5 for the electric and slide stuff. I also played an open back banjo, old-time clawhammer style.
Metronome: What does the song Radical Rags mean to you?
It was inspired by thinking about socially progressive ideas that seemed 'radical' at first, but now we just take for granted as being decent and human. Like being respectful of other people regardless of what race or gender they are. How things we know are good and fair were once met with opposition or seen as negative.
Metronome: What made you choose Political Science by Randy Newman?
I love it. That whole album 'Sail Away' just floors me. His songs don't get preachy or wag a finger, or tell you what to think. They're very human observations made in a direct but subtle way. The reason I chose "Political Science" specifically is that he balancess a dark subject with a sense of humor.
Metronome: What is the song Sidewalk Soldier about?
That came from a direct experience. There was a man who guarded a street corner in Boston, back in the late 90's. He was a vet from the first Gulf war. He was gone mentally, and homeless. He was a single example from the thousands of people we've sent off to war in recent years. There may have been alot of people supporting his initial decision to join the military, but that support system wasn't there for him when he came home.
Metronome: What made you choose Huddie Ledbetter's Bourgeois Blues?
It's a great song. My friend Alex played it at a sing-around party, and I loved his version. He had a funky fingerstyle blues groove. I wouldn't leave him alone until he showed me how he played it.
Metronome: Do you and/or Late Bloomers have plans for future projects?
Yes. Both, all of the above, and probably more.
Metronome: Anything else you'd like to talk about?
A big part of my musical life is teaching. It's a very cool thing. I teach in Mass and New Hampshire, all kinds of students, guitar and songwriting. I love it. It's a great balance with writing and playing. Being a working musician can get pretty crazy sometimes. Teaching's one of the things that keeps me sane and going on.
Brian M. Owens is the publisher and editor of Metronome Magazine. Metronome is a monthly music trade paper now in it's 23rd year. Contact Metronome at P.O.Box 921, Billerica, MA 01821.
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