Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown's tough-minded approach to the blues, country, Cajun, and jazz insures a minimum of nonsense and a maximum of variety, while his virtuosity on the guitar and fiddle insures the highest standards. Nonetheless, Brown's 1997 album is a landmark for the 73-year-old picker who won a Rhythm & Blues Foundation Pioneer Award. All 13 tunes on Gate Swings
find Brown working with his regular road quartet plus a 13-piece horn section, enabling him to prove that Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Lionel Hampton have been as important to his music as any bluesman or Creole fiddler.
Gate Swings includes tunes by all three of those big-band leaders as well as compositions by Buddy Johnson, Percy Mayfield, Louis Jordan, and Brown himself, and they all swing with the massive force that only a big horn section can muster. Brown has leaned in this direction before, but Gate Swings is special, because it features the horn arrangements of Wardell Quezergue, an alumnus of the Dave Bartholomew band who arranged many of the best New Orleans R&B hits in the '60s and '70s.
Quezergue creates big, brassy riffs and thick, sliding harmonies, but he's sympathetic to singers and knows how to clear out space for Brown's vocals and guitar solos. Brown's voice isn't as strong as it once was, but his playing is sharper than ever. He phrases his guitar solos in long, legato phrases like a trumpeter, with few parenthetical embellishments. His solos have never sounded more at home than they do in the context of Quezergue's New Orleans big band. --Geoffrey Himes