by Nick Gardner
“Unbridled.” Aurelio has used this word quite a few times in our conversations and he always lets it linger. It rolls off the tongue like wild horses in empty green pastures or drinking deep, cool water in wild-west arroyos. It is a word that opens a door, opens an entire building. It breaks down barriers. It is a word best defined by a feeling. It is what The Brown Sound is all about.
At Castle David one expects to see ghosts. On the corner of Sturges Avenue and 1st Street the mid 1800s Victorian Style house, turned thrift store, sits with strobe lights going off in the windows. The feel is more house party than public show and friends stand in groups sipping beer and talking fervently about music, art, and sex. Nick Harris, picks up a guitar and sings his new song for a couple of his friends. Conversation stops and all attention goes to this guitarist. He is white. He is not on the bill, but it’s the kind of place where no one would keep good music from happening. His song brings attentive silence followed by loud hoots and applause.
Jerry Lang takes the stage which consists of little more than an amp, a mic, and a PA in the corner of the main room. This is his first official performance, but he looks calm. The lights are dim and people line the walls and doorways or sit in antique chairs in the corners. Jerry begins to play his first song and the music is both haunting and alive. The reverb-heavy acoustic guitar embodies the bold regret and loneliness of the lyrics. His tenor voice blurs some words in the amplified distortion, but the emotion of the song is indisputable and ubiquitous. It is not your average singer/songwriter lamentation of lost love and alcoholism. This is no Elliot Smith or Conor Oberst, no David Bazaan. Though the lyrics may lead you toward this strain of thought, they bear an enlightened tone. The lyrics evoke Bill Burroughs, Allen Ginsburg, and Rimbaud. There is a disembodiment that comes from his soliloquy. It is personal enough to make it almost awkward, but through that tone and the words we all feel his redemption. His sorrows embracing our sorrows and coming to new terms with meaning versus meaninglessness. It’s difficult to say too much about Jerry Lang’s music in more concrete terms. It is a feeling and it is poetry.
Next up is Ben Whitley. His tone is morose, similar to Jerry Lang’s. Ben plays acoustic guitar and sings emotionally. Like Jerry, many of his lyrics are masked by the echoic wash of sound, but the effect is beyond words. The real difference between the two, and what makes Ben’s music stand out, is the influence of his faith on the lyrics. I listen intently and find that he’s not singing lamentations. He’s singing psalms. There is a tremolo quality to his voice that, at first, may present as a man close to tears, but these are tears of passion and love, not of sorrow. In Ben’s music there is a bravery and a beauty present that, even reverberating in atheist ears, is able to be understood by all.
As Ben’s set ends there is applause and a moment of introspection as the “stage” is set for Vaundoom.
After the first song Vaundoom talks about his album “Metacortex” – beyond the brain. He wants to produce an understanding of rap that makes it more than merely his voice over sounds, and he achieves this by rhythmically sucker-punching his words. He is fast and practiced, and though many of his rhymes are not extremely complex it is the passion, attention, and sound behind and around them that accomplishes that meta feeling.
He speaks between songs, little explanations. About hip hop he says he wants to “revive the craft and do it for love”. It’s obvious that when he raps he is doing it for love. It’s obvious that he means each word to follow its predecessor, to pounce off the tongue or sometimes just to hang there. He tells us that the word “nigga” has become “like a pronoun. Like get that nigga a beer.” It is this understanding of language and of the world that truly defines Vaundoom’s work. The listeners agree and bob along to the music. When he does his final piece with a sample from the band Queen in the back ground we all clap and cheer at the end.
I begin to notice that the crowd has been growing since I first entered. Somewhere around thirty to forty people crowding in the house and King David fills the time between sets talking into the microphone, encouraging us to share the show on social media and cracking jokes when he finds a good place for one. The crowd talks back to him and we all engage each other. There is a background of chatter now, all excitement in the air, and a bit of that inebriated over-exuberance.
It comes to mind that these artists are remarkably disparate in sound, style, and purpose. Jerry Lang’s lonely sound. Ben Whitley’s “I am never alone.” and Vaundoom’s, we are in this together. It is a narrative on a new level coming from three different people.
Chico’s Brother begins an autoharp accompaniment to his words. The words, their sound, their feel, and then their meaning as he brings them into being seem to be the focus of Aurelio’s music. Unlike the first two musicians, Aurelio’s words are clearly spoken or possibly spun is a better word. His sentences become vague and allow the listener the job of putting them together into sentences that match their headspace.
While Aurelio sings he closes his eyes sometimes. You can see the stories he is weaving, all love stories, sometimes horror or ghost stories, personal but belonging to each person in their own way. The autoharp adds background noise and colors the words in sparse melodies. Chords comp the vocals. As I look around the room I see that Orie Rush is singing along, then I begin to see others, all of us feeling the need to project the words in our own voices. During one song Aurelio puts down the autoharp and has everyone stomp on the floor to form the beat while he sings. We become the performers as Aurelio captures the crowd on his own cell phone. At one moment we become aware that we are all people. In another moment we become holy. We are all a part of this.
Alcohol breeds ebullience and chatter. Orie Rush jokes about his own inebriation at the beginning of his set but this is hard to believe. Orie taps out rhythms on the guitar and loops them, he strikes a few chords that reverberate and repeat. Then intricate melodies come from the guitar, sometimes a speedy riff, sometimes becoming a sonic background wash. He approaches music that evokes both folk and indie rock sensibilities while blatantly denying any attempt at labeling his sound.
His voice is at once emotional and jovial, based on more classic harmonies than Chico’s Brother. But this changes too, as he covers a song written and performed by Aurelio with that same emotion, that similar dreamy intonation and lilt. It is more of the same heart as Chico’s brother, the ghostly pondering and the gentle encouragement, simultaneously pulling at the borders, bringing the edges into the forefront. Orie both laughs at this and embraces it in his set.
King David, our host, breaks the absolute dreamscape of the altered crowd by taking the mic and chatting us up as the stage is reset. Some attendees have left at this point and the general mood is upbeat and a bit buzzed and there are conversations overlapping each other, overlapping David’s unique handle on situational humor. He projects an awareness of life we don’t normally see at the forefront — a move away from cultural duality. He becomes the naked truth we keep behind closed doors. He shrugs off foody culture, the fine wine and suit and tie and the high-priced entertainment, and fancy cocktails. He symbolizes a simpler brand of the “good times”, one that is much more open and personal.
Don B follows this entreaty with his own. He takes the stage with a rap style much more harsh and heavy than Vaundoom. His approach tends to hit a less cerebral plain with a focus on narrative and explanation. In his lyrics he approaches social issues with blatant slurs and frequent curses, telling it as it is. He acts, as many rappers do, as the mouthpiece of an often disenfranchised culture that is rising through societal ranks and rights of passage. By this point the crowd is moving along with every beat. There is a general camaraderie between us all through his music.
As things die down we move off to different bars, different homes, different corners of the city. I run into people from the show and we tap glasses and smile and cheer, fulfilled for now, unbridled, let loose on the town. We drink cheap beer and we talk loud over the post-show muted hearing. When I get home I sit at my computer for a while, writing a little, but mostly coming to terms with the vast array of music, philosophy, and friendship, the mutual, interracial, multicultural, individual love of these edge-of-the-city events. I feel that I know the unbridled ideals Aurelio is talking about. I understand taking off that tie and dancing like a fool.
This is what The Brown Sound is about, this opening up, this ability to ignore contention, ignore social mores and professional structure. Though this event featured only musicians whose skin is a shade of brown it becomes an invitation to lose that restraint of skin color. Unbridled, we walk in the door, all different colors, all different ages, different sexes and sexual orientations, different religions and experiences, different levels of sobriety and we lose all those restraints in the unbridled expressions of little known artists, lose ourselves in unabridged acceptance.
But Aurelio says it best:
“A fine balance of a persons professional life & artistic life can be accomplished, believe me. All u really need 2 do is be u, create, & eliminate yer God Damn peripheral. “Grow up” & branch out like an Odyssey says this Uptown Mansfield boy.”