Living Blues (Issue #192)
At age 77, Napoleon Brown is singing better than ever. In fact, he’s singing better than just about any other bluesman currently recording. The myriad of vocal tones, inflections, and pitches the North Carolinian employs on his first album in over a decade is simply astonishing, and he expresses a variety of emotions and moods, from tortured to ecstatic, serious to jovial. Brown delivers hard-riffing shuffles such as Keep On Pleasin’ You and Aw Shucks, Baby in a booming, barrel-chested baritone, with all the rhythmic assurance of such other master shouters as Joe Turner and Wynonie Harris. On certain lines, however, he’ll add menacing groans that bring to mind his late friend Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. For (Night Time Is) The Right Time (a Brown tune that Ray Charles popularized) and the gospel song Take Care Of Me, Brown bears down hard in a gruff Baptist preacher’s manner. He raises his pitch to a low tenor for the slow blues Every Shut Eye Ain’t Sleepin’, sounding not unlike Frankie Lee, a soul-blues singer who is Brown’s junior by more than a decade. On another slow blues, Joe Turner and Pete Johnson’s Cherry Red, performed in a very laidback arrangement with Bob Margolin on acoustic guitar, his tone recalls middle-period B.B. King.
Brown moves back and forth between two voices – a deeper baritone and gospel low tenor – on That Man, a humor-laced stop-time number akin to Willie Mabon’s I Don’t Know. He is a trickster, especially on a remake of his 1955 smash, injecting his trademark “li-li-li-li-li” in front of the title phrase, which still seems odd more than a half century later. The blues ballad Give Me Your Love is chock full of tricks. He switches between registers at will, injects extraneous syllables here and there, and executes descending melismas with breathtaking ease, cutting to the emotional core of the song while simultaneously showing off his vocal virtuosity. Brown wrote all the selections, with the exception of Cherry Red and Willie Dixon’s Who.
The variety in Brown’s voice is matched by the assortment of instruments and styles producer Scott Cable surrounds him with. Harmonica blowers Mookie Brill, John Németh, and Bob Corritore help give a Chicago feel to You Were A Long Time Coming, Who, and Aw Shucks, Baby (the disc’s one Corritore-produced track). On other tunes, such as Keep On Pleasin’ You, Don’t Be Angry, and (Night Time Is) The Right Time, the Mighty Lester Horns add a distinctive 1950s R&B flavor. Except for the one track on which Margolin plays, Sean Costello and Jr. Watson take turns contributing incisive guitar solos and fills. Bassist Brill, drummer Big Joe Mayer, and pianist Clark Stern supply empathetic support throughout most of his thoroughly satisfying CD.
– By Lee Hildebrand
Supporting The Blues on Myspace.com (September 14, 2007)
Napoleon “Nappy” Brown Culp is a living legend, both as a gospel style blues singer and a wild R&B Shouter. He began his recording career in 1954, and had many hits on the Savoy label in the 50’s and early 60’s. Between 1955 and 1959, Brown repeatedly appeared on Billboard’s R&B charts, with songs like “Don’t Be Angry”, “Pitter Patter”, “It Don’t Hurt No More”, and “I Cried Like A Baby”. But the song that had the biggest impact for Nappy was a tune he wrote and recorded, but is best remembered as a hit for Ray Charles, “Night Time Is The Right Time”. Long Time Coming is his first album in a decade and it’s one of his best. Most of the album was recorded live in the studio to capture Brown’s spontaneous vocal style. From thick, rich R&B barnstormers with horns and backing vocalists to a stripped down acoustic number, this superb album spotlights his incredibly powerful voice as Brown revisits classics and unleashes invigorating new material that finds the veteran blues shouter back and hotter than ever before.
A cache of great songs by Brown, plus ace guitarist Sean Costello, with Clark Stern on piano, and the mighty rhythm section of Mookie Brill on bass, and Big Joe Maher on drums, pack a punch throughout this 12 song set, providing the backbone for performances by guests Junior Watson, Bob Margolin, Jim Pugh, John Nemeth and The Mighty Lester Horns. Brown sounds better here than he has in ages. He remains a powerful, Gospel-inflected singer who intentionally rolls his ‘l’s and ‘r’s for effect, testifying as he does on barn burners like “Who”, “That Man”, Every Shut Eye Ain’t Sleepin'”, and on the brilliant remakes of “Keep on Pleasin’ You”, “Right Time”, “Don’t Be Angry”, and “Bye Bye Baby”. This is classic Brown, rich and robust, firing on all-cylinders, and clearly having a ball. Check out the laid back country blues of “You Were a Long Time Coming”, with fine harp from Brill, or listen to Brown simply soar on his impassioned performance of “Give Me Your Love”, that’s as fine a song as anything he cut back in the ’50s. The acoustic take of “Cherry Red” is particularly noteworthy, as it’s just Margolin’s fine picking, Brill’s upright bass, and some smart drumming from Maher backing Brown on the Pete Johnson/Joe Turner classic.
The scorching cover of “Aw Shucks, Baby” finds Brown swingin’ n’ shufflin’ with fine support from the likes of Kid Ramos, Johnny Rapp, Henry Gray, Mario Moreno, Chico Chism, and Bob Corritore. Even with such all-star support, it’s Brown who’s the star of the show, displaying renewed vigor and raw emotion on each and every cut. After eleven impassioned vocal performances, he saves the very best for last with “Take Care of Me”, a scorching gospel number, augmented by the superb backing vocals of The Broke and Hungry Quartet. It’s the “sleeper” cut here, a stunning closer to a thoroughly satisfying return to form. At the end of “Aw Shucks”, Brown asks Corritore (who produced this cut) to “try that take back… see how I do”. Nappy, you did great, man. Nobody does it like you do. One listen to Long Time Coming and you’ll know why.
– Rob Lehrian
Blueswax (October 25, 2007)
Big Joe Turner, Roy Brown, and Wynonie Harris were the archetypal Blues shouters from an era long past. For years, these big-voiced men roared their lyrics over huge ensembles. Today, the Blues shouter tradition is mostly either imitated in every horn band or parodied a la the Blues Brothers. Except for Nappy Brown.
Born in 1929, Brown may well be the last of that breed of singer who can front any size band and can easily move his voice from Blues to R&B to Gospel within a syllable. Brown grew up in the church and didn’t crossover to secular singing until the mid-1950s. From there, with hits like “Don’t Be Angry” on the Savoy label, Brown and his sanctified Soul vocals became one of the major voices of early R&B. Since 1984, Brown has recorded sporadically for Alligator, Black Top, Ichiban, and New Moon Records, so this well-crafted Blind Pig effort is aptly titled.
The first thing every Blues shouter needs is the right band and Blind Pig has assembled a band that knows Brown’s strengths. Sean Costello plays all manner of guitar styles on all but two tunes, while Mookie Brill and Big Joe Maher handle the bass and drums respectively. The guest list is a who’s who of the Blues. Junior Watson and Bob Margolin guest on guitar, Jim Pugh joins on the B-3, John Nemeth adds harmonica on one track, and North Carolina’s Mighty Lester Horns (the horn section of The Blues Foundation’s 2007 International Blues Challenge winners) provide the massive brass every shouter needs.
The disc jumps off the launching pad with a nod back to Brown’s Savoy classic “Keep On Pleasin’ You,” the record’s big band tour de force. Costello’s guitar, Pugh’s B-3, and the Mighty Lester Horns center Brown in the tradition of every Kansas City shouter. From there, Brown offers his own vocal history lesson of his life in American music. “You Were A Long Time Coming” has Brown on the Blues side of the street as he vocally spars with Nemeth’s acoustic harmonica and Clark Stern’s trebly piano rolls. “Don’t Be Angry” is Brown’s all out revival of his major R&B hit complete with his signature “L-L-L-L-L-L-L” stutters and Junior Watson’s tasteful guitar work.
Brown also reprises other hits from his past. “That Man,” a humorous duet with himself that he sang as his Savoy debut in 1954, features Costello leading the guitar charge. His remake of “Bye Bye Baby” cooks retro R&B style. In 1957, Brown wrote “Night Time” and lost the hit to Ray Charles. Here, Brown uses the horns as his own Raylettes in the call and response chorus. He and Bob Margolin turn in an acoustic gem on Big Joe’s “Cherry Red”. Because Nappy and Bob have toured and played together often, they are locked into the song’s urgency. When Brown pens his own tune, “Give Me Your Love”, it’s a tender ballad so common of that era that it’s not hard to picture Brown on his knee pleading his lover’s case.
In 2002, Brown recorded “Ah Shucks Baby” in Bob Corritore’s Arizona Blues studio with guitarist Kid Ramos, pianist Henry Gray, drummer Chico Chism, and Corritore’s harp showcasing Brown’s Chicago Blues expertise. On “Every Shut Eye Ain’t Sleepin’”, Watson fingers a Jimmie Vaughan-styled guitar and Pugh twists massive B-3 chords in smart answer to Brown. The disc closes with Brown paying respects to his Gospel roots on the churchy “Take Care Of Me”.
At 78 years young Nappy Brown has survived whatever the music business has dealt him and this sophisticated album will forever stand as his crowning moment.
– Art Tipaldi
Music City Blues (October 5, 2007)
In the Fifties, Napoleon Brown Culp, better known as Nappy Brown, melded the gospel traditions of his upbringing in North Carolina with the secular R & B stylings popular in that era. Boasting a beautifully powerful vocal delivery that is still every bit as vibrant today, he waxed some blistering sides for the Savoy label during this time. After living in retirement for several years, Nappy was coaxed back into the limelight by guitarist Bob Margolin. The result is the aptly-titled “Long Time Coming” on the Blind Pig label.
Surrounding Nappy’s distinctive delivery is a stellar crew of session men who had no trouble understanding the vintage sound that Nappy wanted to capture on this CD. Guitarists include Margolin, Sean Costello, and Jr. Watson, while Mookie Brill and labelmate John Nemeth share harp duties.
On “Long Time Coming,” Nappy revisits some of his early Savoy hits, as well as taking off in a few new directions. His trademark “trilling L-L-L’s” are the hook in the doo-wop style of “Don’t Be Angry”, while “Every Shut Eye Ain’t Sleepin’” and “Aw Shucks, Baby” lean more toward traditional blues. The latter features Kid Ramos on guitar, Henry Gray on piano, Bob Corritore on harp, and the late Chico Chism on drums. Bob Margolin’s acoustic guitar backs Nappy on the stripped-down “Cherry Red”, while the set closes with a return to Nappy’s gospel roots in “Take Care Of Me”.
Two cuts stood out, though. Originally written by Nappy, but largely forgotten until it was resurrected (and restructured) by Ray Charles, “The Night Time is the Right Time” is given an impassioned reading here, with stabbing licks from Sean Costello sprinkled throughout. “Give Me Your Love”, a sweeping, soulful ballad, has Nappy sounding almost operatic as he uses this tune to showcase his tremendous vocal range.
It’s little wonder that Nappy himself said this was his best work since the 50’s. He’s never sounded better, the band knows exactly what to go after, and everyone is having a great time! You will, too, while listening to “Long Time Coming”!!
– Keepin’ the faith, Sheryl and Don Crow
Phoenix New Times (December 13, 2007)
In the 1950s, along with Ray Charles, singer Napoleon “Nappy” Brown was one of the transitional performers between blues and rhythm & blues (the latter in the ’60s transmuted to “soul music”). Proceeding from a blues foundation, Brown worked gospel, pop, and jump-blues (i.e., Louis Jordan) into the mix. That, and his distinctive vocal style — often rolling his “L’s” — Brown laid groundwork for Hank Ballard, Jackie Wilson, Wilson Pickett, and eventually, Van Morrison (post-Them).Long Time Coming continues along Brown’s comeback trail (begun in the ’80s). Wisely, he doesn’t try to replicate his ’50s zenith. Time alternates between straight-up urban blues (the shuffle “Who”, the chugging Little Walter-like “Aw Shucks Baby”) and emotive, urbane R&B à la Brother Ray (“Give Me Your Love”, Ray’s “Right Time”). What separates Sir Nappy from most contemporary blues singers is the euphoric swagger he brings to his vocals, instilling the proceedings with savoir-faire. Mostly recorded in Kernersville, South Carolina, his backing band plays just right — not too raw, not too slick, never overplaying. While no classic,Long Time Coming is a winner.