The Browns were a family harmony band that featured country crooner Jim Ed Brown, along with his sisters Bonnie and Maxine. The trio first recorded in the mid-1950s and scored a huge hit with their song "The Three Bells," which was based on a French chanson song, "Les Trois Cloches", originally a hit for Edith Piaf in the 1940s. With a smooth, elegant sound that fit in with (and helped define) the so-called "Nashville Sound," The Browns recorded successfully through most of the '60s, disbanding in 1967, after Jim Ed had started his own solo career. Here's a quick look at their 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.
The Browns "Looking Back To See" (Bear Family, 1986)
The Browns "Three Bells" (Bear Family, 1994)
Yikes! The definitive, 8-CD collection of the Browns work for RCA, spanning pop-country ballads, western-themed sagas and soft gospel galore. I haven't actually heard this collection, though I suspect it may be a bit much for the average listener to take in, but for the Brown family true believer... well, what a godsend!
The Browns "Sweet Sounds By The Browns/Grand Ole Opry Favorites" (Westside, 2000)
Two albums, reissued straight on one CD, Sweet Sounds By The Browns (from 1960, which has "The Three Bells" on it...) and Grand Ole Opry Favorites, from 1965. In both cases, the group's pop-vocals blandness swiftly overtakes any semblance of life they might have otherwise shown. They have some great harmonies, it's true, but the musical perfectionism comes at the expense of their albums being any fun. I traded my copy back in.
The Browns "I Heard The Bluebirds Sing/A Harvest Of Country Songs" (Collectables, 2004)
Another twofer reissue, combining the old Camden LPs I Heard The Bluebirds Sing (from 1965) and A Harvest Of Country Songs (from 1968). Camden was one of RCA's budget-line reissue imprints, and some collectors may look down on those old LPs as inferior to the proper studio albums, but I've often found the odds-and-endsy Camden collections to be interesting because they tend to collect singles and album tracks that might otherwise have been lost or ignored in favor of bigger hits and more well-known songs. This one is certainly worth checking out if you're a Browns fan.
The Browns "Bonnie, Jim Ed & Maxine" (BACM, 2005)
(Available through the British Archive of Country Music website.)
The Browns "The Complete Hits" (Collector's Choice, 2008)
An excellent single-CD set gathering together a hefty chunk of their chart hits... For most folks, I'd imagine this is the best place to go to try these folks out and see what the Browns were about.
The Browns "Jim Edward, Maxine, And Bonnie Brown" (RCA, 1957) (LP)
The Browns "Sweet Sounds By The Browns" (RCA, 1959)
The Browns "Town And Country" (RCA, 1960)
Reissued on CD.
The Browns "...Sing Their Hits" (RCA, 1960) (LP)
The Browns "Our Favorite Folk Songs" (RCA, 1961) (LP)
The Browns "The Little Brown Church Hymnal" (RCA, 1961) (LP)
The Browns "Grand Ole Opry Favorites" (RCA, 1963)
Reissued on CD.
The Browns "This Young Land" (RCA, 1964) (LP)
The Browns "Three Shades Of Brown" (RCA, 1964) (LP)
The Browns "I Heard The Bluebirds Sing" (RCA, 1965)
Reissued on CD...
The Browns "When Love Is Gone" (RCA, 1965) (LP)
The Browns "Our Kind Of Country" (RCA, 1966) (LP)
A sometimes lethargic country-folk offering, with plenty of cover tunes and a few tracks with an actual backbeat added for bounce. Jim Ed moves into the solo spotlight on a few tracks, though the family harmony is mostly intact through much of the album... Kinda wimpy, but okay. Listenable.
The Browns "The Best Of The Browns" (RCA, 1966) (LP)
The Browns "The Old Country Church" (RCA, 1967) (LP)
The Browns "...Sing The Big Ones From Country" (RCA, 1967) (LP)
The Browns "A Harvest Of Country Songs" (RCA-Camden, 1968)
Reissued on CD.
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.
Maxine Brown "Sugar Cane Country" (Chart, 1969) (LP)
The lone solo album recorded by Maxine Brown after the breakup of the family band... It's pretty good, too! A nice mix of folk-tinged countrypolitan and surprisingly robust, rootsier material. Definitely worth looking for...
"Looking Back To See: A Country Music Memoir"
Written by Maxine Brown
(University Of Arkansas Press, 2009)
Written by Rick Bass
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010)
A fictionalized version of the Browns' family history, written by a novelist who met Maxine Brown and was captivated by her stories...