Country crooner Jim Ed Brown (1934-2015) began his career as one-third of the family group, The Browns, singing in smooth, tight harmony with his sisters Bonnie and Maxine. After a decade or so in the family band, he began first to take center stage, and then to pursue a solo career. The Browns disbanded in 1967, and Jim Ed took off as a chart-topper in his own right. Perhaps his best known hit is the jovial drinking song, "Pop A Top," which peaked at #3 (...and remains one of my personal favorite sing-a-long country songs...). Brown struck gold again with his 1970s partnership with singer Helen Cornelius, scoring several Top Five hits before calling it quits in 1980. Brown largely retired from touring and recording, although in the late '80s he staged reunions both with his sisters and with Cornelius. Here's a quick look at his work...
Jim Ed Brown & The Browns "The Essential" (RCA-Nashville, 1996)
A family vocal act who had a huge Nashville Sound/pop charts hit with their 1959 version of "The Three Bells (Les Trois Cloches)," the Browns floated comfortably at the edges of the '50s pop scene, and were one of Nashville's premier crossover success stories. Their soft, easygoing, inoffensive harmony style was entirely suited to the pop vocals machinations of the RCA studio producers, malleable and pleasant, and able to float on any amount of strings that Chet and his boys could come up with. Jim Ed went solo in the mid-'60s, as his version of Nat Stuckey's "Pop A Top" cracked the top of the country charts... Although he was a protegee of uber-crooner Jim Reeves (who the Browns sang backup for), Brown made a name for himself with a series of mildly macho drinkin' songs and erotic morning-lover ballads. This is a pretty nice overview of his career, which fans of the Browns in specific may find zips past their career too quickly (seven songs out of twenty), but still, you definitely get the idea. It'd be nice if RCA would revisit this reissue and perhaps expand it to include a little more of both phases of his career.
Jim Ed Brown "The Best Of Jim Ed Brown" (K-Tel, 2005)
Jim Ed Brown & Helen Cornelius "Anthology" (Renaissance, 2000)
A much-sought after collection of duets recorded for RCA in the late '70s by this unlikely, but highly successful duo. Their harmonies are interesting -- Helen Cornelius had a trilling, slightly shrill voice that seems a bit grating at first; it's what happens to Brown's voice when in tandem with hers that's kind of cool. Brown started his career as part of a family harmony trio, then took off on a solo career that built him up as a Jim Reeves-style baritone. Here, his voice softens and recedes, taking more of a supportive role in relation to her more piercing tones. It's a nice combination: you may initially cringe at the glitzy production style, but by the end of this album, chances are you'll slip into their wavelength and be a fan. If nothing else, this is a great time capsule of the disco-tinged country crossovers of the 'Seventies, packed with numerous steamy, swinger-themed cheatin' songs, such as "Saying Hello, Saying I Love You, Saying Goodbye," "Lying In Love With You" and Helen's remarkable solo number, "Whatcha Doin' After Midnight, Baby." Slick, but sweet. Also includes a few solo tunes by Jim Ed, who was in fine countrypolitan form.
Jim Ed Brown "Alone With You" (RCA, 1966) (LP)
Jim Ed Brown "Just Jim" (RCA, 1967) (LP)
Jim Ed Brown "Gems By Jim" (RCA, 1967) (LP)
Jim Ed Brown "Bottle, Bottle" (RCA, 1968) (LP)
Jim Ed Brown "Country's Best On Record" (RCA, 1968) (LP)
Jim Ed Brown "This Is My Beat!" (RCA, 1968) (LP)
Jim Ed Brown "Remember Me" (RCA, 1969) (LP)
Jim Ed Brown "Sings The Browns" (RCA, 1969) (LP)
Jim Ed Brown "Going Up The Country" (RCA, 1970) (LP)
Jim Ed Brown "Just For You" (RCA, 1970) (LP)
(Produced by Felton Jarvis)
Kind of a mixed bag... Most of the songs are stuffy, overly-serious, overly artful, slow-tempoed, countrypolitan fluff ("But I Won't," the socially themed "The City Cries At Night," etc.) There're only one moderately vigorous, moderately twangy tune, "Lift Ring, Pull Open," which is a shameless knockoff of Brown's old hit, "Pop A Top" (they even used the same pull-tab sound effect!) and a cutesy-wootsy novelty tune, "Bubblegum Bandit," about some loveable scamp of a little lad who does all kinds of "aren't kids cute" tricks. And then there's "A Baby Again," yet another country song about putting a nipple on a bottle of booze... (I could almost do a whole show around that theme!) Anyway, this is kind of standard fare for ol' Jim Ed, though honestly I think he was just sleepwalking through his albums at this point.
Jim Ed Brown "Morning" (RCA, 1971) (LP)
Jim Ed Brown "Angel's Sunday" (RCA, 1971) (LP)
Geez, what a cheeseball. This is one of his most resolutely softcore, romantic albums, with little in the way of the middle-aged swagger that gives his other albums a little boost. If ya like wimpy countrypolitan, this one's worth tracking down, but if not, well... enter at your own risk.
Jim Ed Brown "She's Leavin' " (RCA, 1971) (LP)
Jim Ed Brown "Evening" (RCA, 1972) (LP)
Jim Ed Brown "Brown Is Blue" (RCA, 1972) (LP)
Jim Ed Brown "Bar-Rooms & Pop-A-Tops" (RCA, 1973) (LP)
Jim Ed Brown "It's That Time Of Night" (RCA, 1974) (LP)
Jim Ed Brown "Country Cream" (Camden) (LP)
Jim Ed Brown & Helen Cornelius "I Don't Want To Have To Marry You" (RCA, 1976) (LP)
Jim Ed Brown & Helen Cornelius "Born Believer" (RCA, 1977) (LP)
Jim Ed Brown & Helen Cornelius "I'll Never Be Free" (RCA, 1978) (LP)
Jim Ed Brown & Helen Cornelius "You Don't Bring Me Flowers" (RCA, 1979) (LP)
Jim Ed Brown & Helen Cornelius "One Man, One Woman" (RCA, 1980) (LP)
Jim Ed Brown "...And Friends -- Live" (Jim Ed Brown Fan Club, 198-??) (LP)
This seems to be a fan club record, with a nondescript band and little in the way of liner notes. There's no date on this one, but I'm guessing it's a post-Cornelius recording, since the photos on the back show Jim Ed with a couple of backup singers -- Dianne Morgan and Christy Russell -- draped over his shoulders. Plus, it just looks kinda early '80s, in a 'Seventies hangover way. I'm guessing '83, '84...? Somewhere in that range...
Jim Ed Brown & The Browns "Jim Ed Brown & The Browns" (Dot, 1986) (LP)
This reunion album, recorded at the height of the '80s Nashville synthabilly scene is better than we have any right to expect, but still a bit scary. Jim Ed's voice ain't all it used to be, and while he does fine on most songs, on a few he stumbles noticibly. It's mostly his show; his sisters are way off in the background, but they do add a nice, sympathetic backing. The drum machines and synths get in the way from time to time, but not as much as you might imagine. Not a super-memorable album, but if you're curious whatever happened to these old-timers, this is definitely worth checking out.
Jim Ed Brown "In Style Again" (Plowboy Records, 2015)
(Produced by Don Cusic & Bobby Bare)
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