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The Best Of

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Album Review

This 12-cut compilation collects nearly a decade of output from the Browns — siblings Jim Ed Brown, Maxine Brown, and Bonnie Brown. The sizable catalog from which the dozen sides were culled are Jim Edward, Maxine and Bonnie Brown (1957), Sweet Sounds by the Browns (1960), Town and Country (1960), Browns Sing Their Hits (1960), Our Favorite Folk Songs (1961), Songs from the Little Brown Church Hymnal (1961), Grand Ole Opry Favorites (1963), This Young Land (1964), Three Shades of Brown (1965), I Heard the Bluebirds Sing (1965) and When Love Is Gone (1965). Additionally, there are several selections formerly available only on 7" singles and EPs — more about those later. The Browns hailed from a working-class background in Arkansas. The trio's initial fame came after being discovered while still in their teens and scoring considerable success with the original "Looking Back to See." The number blended a rural bluegrass feel to Maxine's endearing lyrics — garnering the duo (Bonnie would join in the ensuing months) a guest shot on the Louisiana Hayride radio show. It wasn't too long before they would follow up with the midtempo ballad "Here Today and Gone Tomorrow." After leaving the regional confines of the Fabor Records imprint, the trio had gained enough clout to garner the interest of RCA. No sooner had they re-established themselves on the label than Jim Ed Brown was called by Uncle Sam to serve in the Army. But not before they were able to take their interpretation of the Louvin Brothers' "I Take the Chance" onto jukeboxes and the airwaves. Despite having to split his time between his National service and the music business, Jim Ed was able to join his sisters long enough to keep their collective careers afloat. The Hod Pharis composition "I Heard the Bluebirds Sing" — which had initially gained nominal notice for Elton Britt — kept the Browns in the spotlight. RCA's staff producer Chet Atkins began working with them and ultimately helped the combo to score what would become their most significant sides. The songs crossed over, giving Atkins his very first pop production to go to number one on the Pop Singles survey. For the Browns it began a run of three consecutive Top 20 entries. They remade the pre-WWII Swiss cabaret melody "Les Trois Cloches" — retitled "The Three Bells" — that soared all the way to the top. Then came their timeless and definitive versions of "Scarlett Ribbons" and "The Old Lamplighter." The non-LP selections of note that are found here include "You Can't Grow Peaches on a Cherry Tree," "Then I'll Stop Loving You," and "Shenandoah." While the German-based archivists at Bear Family have reissued a majority of the Browns catalog as pricey (but worth it) European import CDs, those with a more casual interest are encouraged to locate Collectors' Choice Music's Complete Hits (2008).


Genre: Country

Years Active: '90s

During the '50s and '60s, the vocal harmonies of the Browns gave the lie to those who would stereotype country music as a raw product distinguished more by pure feeling than by art; perhaps the single word that best describes their music is "polished." The original brother-sister duo of Jim Ed Brown and Maxine Brown were joined by younger sister Bonnie in 1955, creating a trademark smooth trio sound that proved wonderfully adaptable to down-home harmony singing, to folk-pop arrangements that rode...
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The Best Of, The Browns
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