Recording information: Billy Vera's Rock'n'Roll Party, KCRW (06/22/1989-12/02/1995).
As one of the finest and most distinctive artists in West Coast blues, Charles Brown was always best served by performing with a small ensemble that complemented his low-key artistry rather than drowning it out, and this disc takes that notion and extends it to its logical conclusion by serving up Brown all by his lonesome, with no band to get in the way. Alone at the Piano was compiled from several sessions recorded for radio broadcasts and featuring Brown performing old standards (and a few familiar numbers from his repertoire) solo, with just his piano for accompaniment. While the fidelity of these recordings is variable (never bad, but sometimes not as good as you'd wish) and the one-take-live performances contain a few minor flubs, for the most part this disc is a collection of successful experiments; these sessions capture Brown as a jazz-accented balladeer (not a great stretch from his usual style, but this is notably less of a purist's blues set than one usually hears from Brown), and his takes on vintage chestnuts like "Cottage for Sale" and "Get Yourself Another Fool" are a joy to hear. The delicacy of these performances also allows Brown's vocals to curl around the melodies with a supple grace, and his piano work adds just the right amount of flourish to the tunes; if these aren't necessarily the definitive interpretations of these songs, at the very least they allow one to appreciate the nooks and crannies of his style without the often ill-advised accompaniment of the pickup bands that usually backed him prior to his creative rebirth with One More for the Road. A treasure for fans, and a treat for anyone who loves a great song well sung. ~ Mark Deming
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