Thursday, July 5, 2018


I submit, for your consideration, the next hero for the Marvel Universe. Real name: Ken Kawashima, born to a Japanese father and a Korean mother, who immigrated to the U.S. in the 1960's. Raised in Bowling Green, then moved to Chicago. Day job: Associate Professor of East Asian Studies at the University of Toronto. Avengers name: Sugar Brown. Nighttime job: Blues superhero. While going through his studies in Chicago, Kawashima became immersed in the famous blues scene, and began a tutelage under some of the local legends with names such as Taildragger, Rockin' Johnny and Willie "Big Eyes" Smith. He walked away from it all to get that Ph.D., but after establishing himself in the rarefied air of Upper Canadian academia, found himself unable to resist the call of the wild. In 2014, he reclaimed the Sugar Brown name, and now has issued his third LP, all of them stellar.

Brown has that gritty, real sound that every blues player wishes they could get, but seldom can. It's authentic, and authoritative too. Seems our scholar was studying up on a few subjects in Chicago, as he deftly moves from style to style, including the good-time jump blues of Dew On The Grass, the acoustic country blues of Brothers to the low-down, hard times cut Lousy Dime. He's aided by some superior players, including Toronto roots guitarist Nichol Robertson, stalwart drummer Michelle Josef, classy piano man Julian Fauth, and even his old Chicago mentor, Rockin' Johnny Burgin on guitar. Brown's a deft writer, able to hit classic themes, and is doing all original material, fresh and articulate, but still sounding like all those classic influences.

The final piece of the puzzle comes in the overall sound, captured on two-track analog tape, and vocals recorded using a vintage 1930's microphone pre-amp. It adds that special bit of low-fi, and makes it easy to compare Sugar Brown to the greats. He's definitely got the stuff. Somebody call Stan Lee.

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