August 22, 2017 by Jay Minkin
Of all the local folks I have covered, one artist continues to garner recognition from an international audience. “I notice that some random place in Europe purchased my CD online, so that just makes my day” says Rachel Brown. A full time teacher of choir and music at an area middle school, Brown slips into her polka dress and places a flower in her hair on select nights to the delight of her adoring audience. “I just love the dresses of the ‘50’s and 60’s and they say you can’t be sad when you’re wearing polka dots” laughs Brown. But even with a heavy schedule, the wonderful and gifted pianist continues to write songs with her band The Beatnik Playboys and they will be releasing their third album Look Who’s Back on September 1st.
Brown’s family encompasses multi-generations of musicians from her parents and aunts to her two children which both have performed in the famed Contemporary Youth Orchestra. She grew up with church gospel in a homestead that played George, Merle, Patsy, and Loretta records. Her previous releases Just Look My Way (2013) and Once Again (2014) were as exceptional as anything coming out of Nashville, Austin, New York, or anywhere else. The diversity and range found on a Rachel Brown record defines her as a true artist with a pallet to paint an American Songbook. Fittingly, a painting of the band by renowned artist / songwriter David Childers was chosen to adorn the new album art.
Recorded live at Suma Recording Studios under the direction of engineer Paul Hamann, Brown is once again surrounded by her talented ensemble of Dave Huddelston (guitar), Bill Watson (bass), and Roy King (drums) while playing the studio’s beautiful nine-foot Steinway piano. Special guests included the lovely Emma Shook from the Cleveland Orchestra adding some twangy violin and backing vocals from local blues artist Becky Boyd. With the help of a successful Kickstarter campaign, ten of the twelve new tracks on Look Who’s Back come after a lifetime of paying dues on a church piano bench, in nightclubs and opening for touring artists on concert stages. As a full-time mom and schoolteacher, Brown’s perseverance was tested traveling the singer/songwriter career path through feast or famine times. The two additional songs were written by dear friends Nathan Bell with the classic country “Whiskey, You Win” and a powerful heart bleeding ballad from Robert Kidney titled “No Lock No Key”. It was a labor of love for Hamann who also lacquer cut the vinyl Lp being manufactured by Gotta Groove Records.
The band chose the title track which opens the record, a silly little sassy song channeling a Wanda Jackson rhythm that takes you to the dance floor. A waltz shuffle ballad, “Texas Moon” was inspired by a trip to Gruene Hall that paints a picture about the Lone Star state. “This Old Place” is filled of lots of tears and memories inspired from a family who grew up in Brown’s home during the ‘50’s and stopped by to take one last look during a family reunion. Written as a joke about an old pair of Birkenstocks, “Worn Out Shoes” is a bluesy song that features Watson on the Tuba. The beautiful gospel torch song “Acceptance” resonates with the life theme that when things don’t go as planned, don’t fight it. Both “Goodbye” and Count On Me Baby” are pure honky tonk rock and roll ala Jerry Lee Lewis with Rachel out front on piano and vocals. You’ll fall in love with the outlaw country ballad “Blue Diamond”, but it’s Brown letting go of the sweetness in “Blinders” with the spotlight on both Shook and Huddelston that has an out-of-control intensity. A sweet folk song dedicated to her son, “Hey My Child” is the most special of all with Brown on acoustic guitar and Andrew backing Mom on vocals.
For the time being, especially since school is back in session, you’ll have to get on a bus to Northeast Ohio to see Rachel Brown & The Beatnik Playboys perform live in concert at select venues like The Bop Stop (08/25) or the Old 97 Café (10/20) along with her CD Release Show at the historic G.A.R. Hall on September 16th that has become a major stagecoach stop for nationally touring musicians. To order the album and additional information, visit rachelandthebeatnikplayboys.com