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POP CAPSULES

Brown: Smoky Blues

June 09, 1986|DON WALLER

With his smoky baritone, crushed-ice piano and relentlessly downbeat mellow mood, Charles Brown pours a patented brand of West Coast club blues into the crack between Nat King Cole and the ballad side of Ray Charles. Although he scored several Top 10 R&B hits, Brown is best remembered for his 1945 smash "Drifting Blues" and his seasonal classic "Merry Christmas, Baby" ('47), both of which he performed Saturday at the Music Machine.

Backed by a capable three-man rhythm section, the 64-year-old Oakland resident remains an agile pianist and a velvety vocalist. The one-time high school science teacher also has a way with audience-involving stage patter that manages to be conversational without lapsing into slickness--and for that alone would command the respect he shows his music, which is still as keen a view into the wartime frustrations of black Los Angeles as Chester Himes' novel "If He Hollers Let Him Go."

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