Engrained in the Baltimore funk scene, Old Man Brown released their third full-length album, Brand Me Immoral, in Federal Hill on May 3rd. Usually an eight-piece crew, it’s nearly impossible for the band to tour. But on the night of the album’s release, ten performers managed to cram themselves on the 8×10’s tiny stage after a half hour of pondering the Tetris-like configuration.
Simply put, Old Man Brown’s new album is a true sign of their growth over the years. “The band is evolving,” front man Adam Scott-Wakefield said. “Our sound is slowly heading south, more of a New Orleans vibe.” Upon listening to the album and seeing the band perform, The Big Easy inspiration is difficult to miss.
The album’s producer Frank Chiovaro explained that during the recording process, “A feeling happened. It started to take on it’s own character,” he says. “It’s an atmosphere.” Old Man Brown cultivated that atmosphere through months of recording and obsessive mixing to create this deceivingly complex album.
In a genre where songwriting has taken a backseat to complex funk arrangements, Old Man Brown focuses their new material on filling in those songwriting holes to build simple songs. The album revisits the songwriting techniques of Stevie Wonder and Donny Hathaway which Wakefield simplifies as “good songs, and good melodies; melodies that you can get into.”
Brand Me Immoral features musicians Ivan Neville, Cris Jacobs, and Eric Lindell, with tracks that range from love songs like, “Never Let Your Love Go,” to Jenny Leigh’s, “Safe With Me,” to the political protests in the album’s title track, “Brand Me Immoral.” Wakefield’s songwriting style is incredibly impressionistic and honest. “I want to write a cool song with crazy lyrics, but I want to make sure that it all means something,” he says. Instead of writing convoluted lyrics, he likes to make his messages easy to understand. “If I just use imagery, then I’m not yelling at people and telling them what to do,” he says. “I’m just showing you what’s going on.”
Each song on the album tells its own intricate story. “Stillborn Son” was originally created after Adam dreamt the lyrics “angels in the architecture, let’s shake ‘em all down,” a prime example of his simple songwriting style paired with dissonant harmonies. His jazz-piano training shines through in “Amanda,” a song inspired by the soulful-soloist style of Lettuce’s Nigel Hall.
Citing influences like Anders Osborne, D’Angelo, Dubstapfunk, The Doobie Brothers and Soundgarden, Brand Me Immoral as a whole is an extension of Adam himself. While the album varies in songs and styles, “The whole album is more about life and having fun,” Wakefield Says.
When the band took their places on stage and Adam’s creations came to life. The album’s message was obvious; they’re simply about having a good time, and the band’s ultimate funk stamina and groove can attest to that. Featuring the prolific Baltimore drummer Dave Cavalier on drums, the album was performed just as Adam had described. If the band continues to head in this direction, they’re bound to grace stages much bigger than the 8×10, but being famous isn’t their goal. “I didn’t study piano and singing since I was 4 years old to play four chords in a stadium,” Wakefield says, “nobody’s going to be a rock star playing our music.” But with this record, he hopes that the band will be able to reach audiences farther than the Baltimore area. “We’re trying to take it from the level where we’re doing this for fun to actually being successful,” Wakefield says.
For more info on the band, check out their new site, http://oldmanbrown.net/wp/, and keep an eye out for them around Baltimore and DC all summer.