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Long before there was "red dirt" music, there was Brother Cane, one of the best nineties rock and roll bands you've never heard.
Back then, the natural inclination upon hearing a Brother Cane song was to call it "southern rock." True, the band was from the south. And true, their songs featured a blend of country, blues, and hard rock. But there was more to Brother Cane than "Sweet Home Alabama." The band had a string of minor hits during the nineties, and these songs were so popular that, while you might not remember them unprompted, you'd recognize them if you heard them.
So, it's not "southern rock," which came earlier, and it's not "red dirt," which came later. What is it? It's the perfect blend of nineties hard rock experimentation with Nashville songwriting, that's what. And it was incredible.
Singer and guitarist Damon Johnson has one of the best voices in hard rock, capable of screaming high notes, dusky low notes, and everything in between. Vocally, he's the result of equal parts Chris Robinson and Chris Cornell. That alone is worth the price of admission, but Johnson ups the ante with guitar pyrotechnics so substantial that they landed him a gig in Sammy Hagar's band, a gig in Alice Cooper's band, and finally a gig in Thin Lizzy / Black Star Riders. So we're not just talking about a good pop rock singer or a good guitarist, we're talking about skills in both territories that have put him in the enviable position of being a major in-demand guitarist to rock and roll's living legends.
Get the picture?
Brother Cane's debut album, 1993's Brother Cane gave them two recognizable hits in the hard-hitting "Got No Shame" and the softer, sweeter "Hard Act to Follow," both of which I still hear on rock radio stations today.
Naturally, this debut album is not as well-defined, from an artistic standpoint, as their subsequent releases, but all the Brother Cane trademarks are in place. You could say a lot of things about a band this good, in terms of what those trademarks really are, but for me, I can sum it up in one word: intelligence.
Intelligence is the thing that put Brother Cane ahead of all the other southern rockers, all the other nineties bands, and certainly all the red dirt bands that popped up two decades later. While the songs on Brother Cane certainly feel like straight-ahead country-twinged rock songs, the riffs have a harmonic depth that straight-ahead rock so often lacks. Even Johnson's guitar solos, despite their explosiveness, always shine for their note choice more than their speed. And the melodic composition of the songs is a few steps ahead of the game. Add to that the rather clever and surprisingly technical drumming of Scott Collier. Not content to simply keep the beat, Collier's drumming features unique and well-thought out beats that, while never over-stated, always served to inject a level of depth in what might otherwise be a straight-forward rock song. Collier would really spread his wings on the band's second album, but even here on the debut the intelligence of his craft is fully evident.
Brother Cane is an excellent album, one that sets the stage for what the band would accomplish later. Its only real weakness, if it has one, is that it is not quite as good as the band's later releases - but you certainly can't fault a band for ending better than they began! Not a lot of people remember this band, just as not a lot of people had heard of them at the time, but for any fan of melodic hard rock, it's love at first sound.
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