Dusty Road, the debut album by the Brothers Brown, unveils a dynamic new presence in American roots music. It’s dozen songs—buoyed by a superb level of songwriting and musicianship—recall the work of such seminal groups as the Band and Creedence Clearwater Revival in their ability to create a sense of place and time, or, rather, timelessness, as well as emotional depth. This new union of four powerful writers, players and producers from Nashville and Los Angeles also has a similar ensemble approach, with multiple vocalists and uncanny interplay.
The Brothers Brown are fronted by two musicians named Paul Brown. One is a double Grammy winning producer, guitarist, singer and songwriter from Los Angeles. The other is a Grammy nominated producer, keyboardist and songwriter based in Nashville. The band is completed by a virtuosic rhythm section that also calls Nashville home: bassist David Santos, who has worked with Billy Joel, Elton John, John Fogerty and other superstars; and drummer Peter Young, who has toured with Loretta Lynn, Burrito Brothers and other major artists. Santos and Young are also accomplished producers.
The formidable sound they create together makes Dusty Road a unique and thrilling listening experience. From its opening burst of Latin percussion and guitarist Brown’s gently pealing, precisely phrased licks, the title track evokes images of desert highways and backwater motels rooms, of ashtrays overflowing with cigarette butts next to whiskey-stained glasses—projecting a sense of loneliness limned by proud resignation. This artful character study comes together over a life-giving, back-of-the-pocket groove.
“That song’s a good example of how we can rock without being obvious,” explains bassist Santos. “That groove drives the song hard, and yet there’s plenty of breathing room in the arrangement so the instruments and Paul’s voice are perfectly balanced. It takes players with a high level of insight and experience to achieve that.”
That can also be said for “California,” which blends blues, jazz and a film noir sensibility into a seamless, heart-deep love song. Guitarist Brown’s relaxed, big-toned voice, abetted by his wah-wah inflected soloing and lead lines, plus keyboardist Brown’s Hammond B-3 organ textures, which float like rising mist, make for a truly unique blend with the loose, haunted rhythm and the group’s four-part harmonies. The combination practically shimmers with soul.
“The River,” sung by Santos, offers a set of instantly familiar thrills, recalling the character and complexity of the songs of John Hiatt and Robbie Robertson. The song is the tale of a journey—through not only the river port cities of the South, but through aging, love, solace and the quest for joy. The tune, propelled by the tides of swelling organ tones and terse, tasty and full-bodied single-note guitar melodies, is simply and classically an example of great American roots music.
“Even for me, it’s hard to imagine the four of us were never in the same room when the album was recorded,” says guitarist Paul Brown, who’s had two Grammy wins as a producer and made seven albums of his own, all in the jazz realm. “But we have a shared vocabulary and wealth of experience in Americana, jazz, rock, blues and R&B that lets us blend our talents effortlessly as musicians and co-writers. Making this album—which we did by trading files, working in our own studios and communicating on Facebook—was a breeze. And, in fact, we were able to create so much music that we already have another album completed.”
Organist Paul Brown—who received a Grammy nomination for his production of soul-blues king Bobby Rush’s Down in Louisiana album, is a veteran of the American blues and R&B scene (with deep roots in Memphis soul) and is currently a member of U.K. rockers the Waterboys—adds: “It was all about our ability to capture this vibe—the kind of vibe most bands can’t capture until they’ve been playing together for, like, 10 years. But somehow, we found it instantly.”
Brown and Brown both met for the first time at the Grammy Awards in 2014. “It was like we’d known each other forever,” says the guitarist. “We almost immediately started talking about writing songs together, and that quickly turned into forming a band and making an album.”
Both Brown’s had been circling each other for more than a decade. “At one point, I was getting some of his royalty checks by accident,” says the organ playing “Brother.” “That’s how I became aware there was another Paul Brown out there performing.” Guitarist Brown adds, “When I saw videos of Paul playing the organ like a wizard with his hair flying in the wind and a huge smile on his face, I knew I was not only not the only Paul Brown out there; I wasn’t even the coolest.”
Where Dusty Road will lead the Brothers Brown is uncertain, although all are determined to find the space within their busy personal schedules to tour as a band. “What we really want people to know about us is that, despite our resumes and other work, we’re really committed to each other,” says drummer Young, who also sings lead on the album’s “Drink You Off My Mind. “The bottom line is, this is a group of really good people and terrific musicians who are doing this because we love it. And that love and all of our lives are reflected in this music, which is why it sounds so natural and has so much depth.”