The trip from Hank to Hendrix is a short one with Junior Brown at the wheel. The guitarist from Austin, Tex., plays traditional honky-tonk that is flawlessly authentic, but with enough accents of Jimi, surf and other styles to keep his music, and his audience, a little off-balance.
He brought that sly mixture to Jacks Sugar Shack over the weekend, serenading Friday's crowd with his warm baritone on witty and heartbroken odes to Ernest Tubb, the Highway Patrol and a singing janitor. But it was Brown's lightning-paced flourishes of bluegrass, blues, Hawaiian and newer genres that kept his old-style country music fresh.
Brown plays a unique double-neck instrument of his own invention, pairing an electric six-string with a pedal steel. And he carried it with a relaxed, country suaveness, offering a blast from the timeless core of country music in this era of smoke machines and slick, crossover pop.
Backed by a three-piece band that included his wife, guitarist Tanya Rae, Brown stepped completely outside the country oeuvre just once, for a searing medley of surfing and spying instrumentals. Soon enough, he was mixing things up again, playing Hawaiian slide on "Hillbilly Hula Gal," lovingly tying together the disparate strands of American guitar music.