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Jammin' with Junior 

Turning the Playhouse into a roadhouse

VARIETY PLAYHOUSE, FEB. 16 -- "I'm a guy who likes to party," sings Texas picker Junior Brown, and he obviously does. However, it seems that Brown has been throwing the same party for almost eight years, and the fun is wearing a bit thin. Though Brown is one fine musician, he has done little to expand his repertoire beyond the novelty status that first drew attention. As such, Brown's performance has become predictable and inevitably boring.

Opener Paul Thorn worked hard with just an acoustic guitar to win over the sparse audience with his witty material and hilarious between-song banter. The crowd filled the area in front of the stage by the time Brown kicked off his performance with "Broke Down South Of Dallas" and "Party Lights." Both songs have been staples of his set for most of the past decade and were delivered in the note-for-note renditions fans have heard for years. Brown did a few more originals and classic covers, then introduced the band.

Upright bassist Steve Layne sang a tune, and then drummer Pete Ameril delivered a stunning solo using just a snare and a cymbal. Brown then shifted the spotlight to his wife, rhythm guitarist Tonya Rae Brown, who did a couple of great tunes -- including the Wynn Stewart classic "It's Such a Pretty World Today" -- that showcased her strong voice.

From then on the show was almost all Junior, as he sang lead and played all the solos on his unique guit-steel, a combination Fender Telecaster and lap steel contraption that allows him to switch back and forth with ease. The dexterity with which Brown manipulates his instrument is impressive. The only problem is that he does many of the same licks over and over, and after a while it just gets old.

Brown has appropriated a number of musical influences to create what appears to be his own signature style, but with repeated exposure the blend slowly breaks down. You can hear Hendrix, the Ventures, Jimmy Reed, Leon McAuliffe and even a bit of Joe Pass thrown around. And while each of these artists stands for something unique in their own right, they are reduced to cultural signifiers in Brown's musical arsenal. One couldn't help but notice how the crowd seemed to dwindle with each extended solo.

For the first-time attendee, a Junior Brown concert may be a spiritual experience. The man is talented, and can sing a great country song. However, repetition clouds the picture for long-term fans. While many artists continuously reinvent themselves, Brown appears content to add one or two songs to the set list every now and then, with little variation in style or substance. So while some say, "it ain't broke, why fix it?" this listener has had his fill of the same old same old. Turn out the lights, the party's over.

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