Late Bloomers,
Sneakin' in the Back Door
(self-produced, 2003)

Self-taught guitarists Randy Browning and Brett Kinney honed their skills and came together at Boston's Berklee College of Music. I don't know what teaching methods they employ there, but they should keep on doing whatever they're doing because these two musicians are first-rate.

Based in New England, they say their goal is "to continue to grow in new and interesting ways," and Sneakin' in the Back Door is a great illustration of how they're succeeding in that.

The album opens with the title track, written by Browning. It's a neat little story about a woman who's married someone who thinks he's a "hoochie-koochie" man. He comes sneakin' in the back door, shoes in his hand, and she knows he's fooling around. The song tells how she sits at the kitchen table with her girlfriend and plots a way to keep him in line. It's fun, and it's a great toe-tapping start to the set.

From there they kick into the "Beaumont Rag," which they follow up with "Sister Kate." The boys have added a new verse and upped the tempo just a touch to give the song a hillbilly ragtime feel. If you close your eyes you can almost see them shimmying on the wooden floorboards of the Dew Drop Inn.

"Rodeo Clown" is another Browning original, and it's a song that's about more than the rodeo. It's about living life the hardest way you know how, even when it'd be real sensible to stop and and at least let the bruises heel. A slow, thoughtful tune, it's well suited to Browning's gravelly vocals, as is "Long Way to Go," the story of Paul Fuller who walked across Maine to raise awareness about sexual discrimination. There's one more song on the album, "Tina Came to Dance," which is described in the liner notes as "a good old-fashioned B-movie." It's fun, the characters that shimmy their way through it are well drawn and, as ever, it's well-performed.

As if all this original music wasn't enough, Browning and Kinney have just as much fun with other material. "Waiting for Nancy" is a light banjo tune by Curt Bourterse that is played here as a banjo/guitar duet. "Lowlands of Holland/Southwind" is an inspired combination of Martin Simpson's arrangement of "Lowlands" with an arrangement of "Southwind" that's their own. "Something about Twilight" is Kinney's soothing homage to the passing of the day and is played as a simple but very effective guitar duet. "Painted Desert" is similar in tone. "Frosty Morning" is livelier -- a superb adaptation of an Appalachian fiddle tune transformed, of course, into a piece for virtuoso guitar and banjo.

My favourite tune, though, is Browning's "Grave Digger." With Browning on banjo, Kinney on guitar and guest Steve Brown playing the bones, it's the sound of skeletons dancing jigs on Hallowe'en, and I love it.

This album is so much fun to listen to. If you like guitar and appreciate good pickin', buy a copy. I promise you, it's worth a lot more than the asking price.

- Rambles
written by Jean Lewis
published 26 June 2004

[ visit the artist's website ]