You Can't Pigeonhole an Eclectic Entertainer

by Hubert O'Hearn
(posted with permission from Thunder Bay's Chronicle- Journal)

There's a reason why I don't like to slap labels on musicians' foreheads like they're so many UPS packages. You know what I mean. "Dickie Pflug, the noted Kentucky Bluegrass pianist and Kansas Prairie rapper played last night at...." It just doesn't work. Anyone so unidimensional that they can be narrowly thumbprinted in a four-word description probably is not worth the effort of seeking the right phrase in the first place. Real artists constantly drift over lines, as their minds are agile enough to seek out whatever particular form is appropriate for the story or sentiment they are attempting to express.

That was the main thought I had while listening to Rodney Brown's concert this past Saturday evening at the the Unitarian Hall. Rodney has been known or labelled for so long as a Children's Entertainer that I couldn't help but wonder how much greater his local audience could be if people just encountered him through his latest work, as is about to be released on CD.

People, I consider it a true honour to be able to report to you that the CD called Into the Woods, may well be a truly great album. You could have heard a pin drop when he sang Casualty of War, a song about his father's experience during and after World War Two, set to a martial beat. Rodney's tears at the end of The Forgotten Ones, about the children of our remote Northwestern Ontario communities, were shared by many of the audience. And the reggae-beat title cut had a splendidly tongue-in-cheek tone.

Here's the rub. Some may call such eclecticism unfocused. Others may be disappointed that there aren't any children's songs. Regarding the latter, we need not be so proprietary over an artist that we resist his growth. And as to the former point; Bob Dylan gets to be eclectic. So do (or did) Phil Ochs, Harry Chapin, Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen, to grab just a few names out of a hat.

Eclecticism is a virtue so long as the songs are good. These are very good songs. Look for Into the Woods when it appears in record stores soon. And watch for news of Rodney Brown's next concert. You'll be glad you did.