Live Review

Brandon’s Brush with Future Stardom, He May Become Guitar’s Newly-Anointed Great One

Brandon Lee Adams on June 17, 2017

Brandon Lee Adams proves he's the powerful picker his friend Tony Rice has prophesied. (Photo courtesy of the performer)

Brandon Lee Adams has been branded by no less than Tony Rice himself as someone with chops that he thinks might rival his own.  Yet, as Brandon told me, he didn't say Adams is the next Tony Rice. Instead, he likes to play with Brandon because he has a distinctive style of his own. Don’t get much better than that. And, Brandon proves worthy of praise each night he leaves his country farmstead to grace a stage someplace with his virtuosic, melodic, and lightning-speed guitar playing and deep, rich country voice.  His stunning range of talent was on display recently in the Tidewater Friends of Acoustic Music series, this show co-sponsored in Norfolk, VA, by WHRV Public Radio and Barry Graham’s exemplary “Acoustic Highway” radio program. The performance was in a studio of the combined WHRO public TV and WHRV public radio facilities across the street from the Old Dominion University Campus.

Brandon’s a down-to-earth, good guy and he has an excellent album out featuring a duet with one of his major idols and now a friend, guitar great Tony Rice.

He's uncomfortable with the comparisons to his idol, but is deeply honored by any praise his friend has shared. Still, he's a man uneasy with praise. "Man, it's crazy to even imagine being in Tony's class for me. I'm beyond honored. I never dreamed of such things. It's hard for me to accept compliments."

Rice & Adams Together 

The duo of Rice and Adams sound great on the album, but Brandon’s no slouch doing it solo. He rises to the occasion with each song, most of them self-written. His voice is deep and emotive. He can take it deeper, and he can raise it up at times. A singular voice, Brandon has surprising range.

He does, “Roberts Ride,” a speedy, intricate instrumental, and then tells a story and launches into “Slap Shot.” This is another quick-moving instrumental where he swings bluegrass-style, but the licks get more individual, more distinctively Brandon, over and under, around and through, pick-pick-twang. He talks then about working on a farm with thoroughbred horses and writing songs  at the stable’s edge and starts a narrative about earning your keep in the tune “Sweat of Your Brow.”

You got to keep the fire burnin’ from sunup to sundown/when you earn your livin’ by the sweat of your brow

At the other end of the bluegrass spectrum, he does a ballad like “Docks of Sutters Bay” with grace and quiet power.

The ship’s still rollin’ from the storm/Our lit house is safe and warm/Oh, mother I hear you call/God keep you safe from all harm/Oh, mother I hear you call/You were right and I was wrong/The path of life is hard and long/But, I’ll be back again someday by the docks of Sutters Bay

And other songs like Jimmie Martin’s “Don’t Give Your Heart to a Rambler,” finding a place in-between where the soft and the hard, the light and the dark, the quick and the slow, compete gracefully while finding a middle ground in Martin’s distinctive sound.

Brandon can play intricate modalities up and down the neck of his beautiful 1972 Martin D41, his vintage treasure that he lucked into for a steal and won’t likely ever give up for any amount of dollars, he told an asker that night. And, he has some fine original lyrics, as in “I Long for Seventeen.”

I Long for Seventeen

“I Long for Seventeen” is an achingly-introspective look back at life’s choices and what those difficult determinations mean in later life. What brings the song itself alive is Adams’ way of singing a song with feeling. He blends his heart through his words and voice.

At seventeen, I believed I could do most anything/broke the burning sun from out the midnight train/there were no bars on the wall/and had no cares at all/in my world I was a king when I was 17

Life went on, and I grew colder/like the summers turned to fall/I had the wind at my shoulder/Now my back’s against the wall

I love the line about breaking the burning sun from the midnight train. It was at 17 that Brandon won a talent contest that carried him to an appearance at Nashville’s sacred Ryman Auditorium.

When he’s not gracing the world with his music, Adams is on his long-lived family farm in Kentucky, away from everything and everyone, and that’s the way he likes it. Though, he has a home on social media, and has had to cut back when he found he had too many communications on Facebook, etc.  They brought him up to huge hours each day, but he’s trimmed that down too now.

As the songs unfolded, he told some pretty good stories about when he met some of the greats whose songs he was singing, like Jimmy Martin and Bill Monroe. Like the time he decided to call Jimmy Martin at 2 a.m., thinking, oh he’ll be up and wanting to talk. Martin wasn’t up, but took it graciously and invited his fan to join him coon hunting in the near future. Martin died shortly after that.

Adams’ “Already Home.” smokes with Brandon’s sensitive playing topped with his emotive country singing.  He also played his own version of Bill Monroe’s mandolin on his trusty Martin of Monroe’s “Road to Columbus.”

He finished with Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice; It’s Alright.” Dylan, he told me, is his favorite writer. The range of styles Brandon played was a plus for me that night.

Some little known facts about Brandon Adams, he’s the first acoustic/bluegrass player to be broadcast on South African radio. Two, he played on an album to help raise funds for children with cancer. Three, he appeared on Nitty Gritty John McEuen’s XM Radio. Four, he was a session musician with The Perry Sisters. And five, he served in the military and spent some time in college after high school.

Player on the Rise

The new album, Hardest Kind of Memories, is available now and is an excellent introduction to the rich world of Brandon Lee Adams. I’m watching for the next steps in this guy’s rapidly-moving career.