One More For The Road
Alligator Records, 1986
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 05/31/1999
Charles Brown should have been a major star up until the day he died. The new generation of blues fans had the chance to really bring his career back from the unknown when, in 1989, his album One More For The Road was released. Unfortunately, the revival never did catch fire, and it wasn't until Bonnie Raitt brought Brown out onto the road for some live dates that some people even gave him the time of day.
Three words: God-Damn Shame. Brown should have been on the same pedestal as Tony Bennett is these days. His style of slow blues - really R&B form the early days - comes off as smooth as a good shot of whiskey, and this album is proof that, even as the twilight of his years came to him, he still had what it took to deliver the goods.
This album was a stylistic shift for Alligator Records, mainly because Brown's style of music often had as much of a jazz influence as it did straight twelve-bar blues. And, unlike some of their other signings, this is a much mellower form of the blues, one that requires the listener to sit down and take it all in.
One song that really sums up the picture for me is "Save Your Love For Me," a track that dares to lay down a saxophone-driven groove and create a real mood, not just a rhythm. Brown - who often let his piano playing just become part of the rhythm track and had other artists take the solo spotlight - acts as the crooning bandleader, taking the track into levels previously unexperienced by the younger (or less experienced) blues fan.
Likewise, "One For My Baby" dares to paint the scene before delivering its message. Possibly best-known as the song Bette Midler sang to Johnny Carson on his last show (at least last with guests), Brown successfully makes this song his own and keeps the emotion of the track intact. No disrespect towards Midler and her version which still can bring me to tears, but this track truly belonged in Brown's hands.
The magic continues for most of One More For The Road, making you think that Brown can do no wrong. Cuts like "Route 66", "Cottage For Sale", "I Stepped In Quicksand" and "You Changed My Life" all make strong cases for Brown's immortality as a legend of rhythm and blues.
So why didn't the fire light for Brown? Believe me, I wish I knew the answer. I can honestly see some people picking up this album, listening to it, then kicking themselves because Brown never got to reclaim the level of fame he once had and truly deserved. (To some people, he's always going to be known just for "Please Come Home For Christmas".)
That Charles Brown died without becoming the superstar he should have been is sad enough. Fortunately, One More From The Road exists to make sure that he can achieve something possibly greater: immortality.