Blues music can generally be divided into two categories. There are the rock-informed blues with polished, clichéd solos, going- through-the-motions vocals, and obnoxiously loud and pummeling versions of everything from “Sweet Home Chicago” to “Down-Home Blues” to “Mustang Sally.” Then there are the more idiosyncratic blues that are passionate, distorted, and raw. Kenny Brown’s new double album, Can’t Stay Long, is firmly planted in the second camp. Brown is a native of Northern Mississippi, where he learned from and played with the gods of that minimal chord trance boogie: Joe Callicot, Junior Kimbrough, and R.L. Burnside. One disc is a live, closing set from the wild North Mississippi Hill Country Picnic. It’s raucous and rambunctious as Brown and his band roll through such Hill Country classics as “Skinny Woman,” “Jumper on the Line” and “Ms. Maybelle.” The tunes hit hard with Brown’s slide guitar playing sometimes taking them into a new dimension. His vocals are tough yet resigned, especially when he sings the always-true lines “I’m laughing to keep from crying” and “I’m going back to Mississippi / Got to get away from you.”
The second disc is a solo, acoustic session recorded on Brown’s front porch. It is quieter and prettier, but the songs still have a drive to them with a sense of menace and foreboding, accented again by Brown’s precise but unexpected slide work. Even spiritual numbers such as “Denomination Blues” have a metaphorical cloud over them. Both these recordings are excellent and soulful, and they stand out over the less subtle stadium music that most blues have become.