Friday, October 01, 2004:

Oscar Brown Jr.

Oscar Brown Jr. -- Dat Dere
Oscar Brown Jr. -- Brown Baby
John at The Tofu Hut has tipped me off to some amazing music since I first found the site, and one of the artists that's made me giddiest is Oscar Brown Jr. A jazz lyricist and vocalist, Brown wrote words to the jazz classics "Afro Blue," "Sleepy," "Watermelon Man," "Work Song," and "Dat Dere." Now that's ambition, not hubris; he pulls it off. Nina Simone covered some of his songs, and, as much as I like her work, I think Brown's versions are better.

Brown was born in 1926 and has kept himself busy: an actor, a playwright, a director, and a former communist ("too black for the reds," he said); he's still sharp and has stayed radical, I'll give him props for that. Here are two tracks about fatherhood from the middle of his first album Sin and Soul ... and Then Some.

The first is "Dat Dere," a snappy, humorous take on a childhood I must have shared: "Inquisitive child / But sometimes the questions get wild / Like 'Daddy, can I have that big elephant over there?'" As fun as the track is, it's also smart, alluding to parental anxiety and the need to prepare children for the world.

The second is "Brown Baby," a more serious number about the emergence of civil rights. This record came out in 1960, at the start of Brown's recording career, but it hasn't aged a bit. It doesn't hurt that the lyrics are touching and humane--dude wants to leave something better for his children! Now that's universal.

If these tracks move you at all, check out the disc. Best $10 I ever spent on music. (Best $10 I ever spent period was tempeh fried rice and a beer, but that's another story.)
[Oscar Brown Jr. -- Sin and Soul ... and Then Some]


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