Monday, January 04, 2010

A 90-Second Pick-Me-Up

Category: 50 Songs to Hear

SONG: When I Lift Up My Head
ARTIST: Browns
SONGWRITER: Dottie Rambo
ALBUM: Old Country Church
YEAR/LABEL: 1967; RCA Victor

That's not a song people usually mention.
(Maxine Brown, discussing "When I Lift Up My Head," July 4, 2009)

It has often been said, given the number of sibling acts in country music history, that there is no harmony like family harmony. Very few people have proven that more accurately than the Browns.

The trio began as a duet, just Jim Ed and his older sister Maxine. When Bonnie graduated from high school she joined the group. Their career seemed at an end when Jim Ed was drafted, but good friend (and guitarist on the first Browns recordings) Jim Reeves went to bat for them at RCA and got them signed. Their first RCA hit was one for the ages: the Louvin Brothers composition "I Take the Chance." Out of the Army, in 1959 Jim Ed recorded the landmark "The Three Bells" with his sisters. and set everyone in country and pop on their ears with the song. Other hits followed, including "Scarlet Ribbons" and a version of Hank Locklin's "Send Me the Pillow That You Dream On." In 1967 the two sisters retired from show business to concentrate on raising their families, leaving Jim Ed as a solo artist.

Before they parted company professionally they recorded a gospel album, Old Country Church. The shortest song on the album is also the best: "When I Lift Up My Head."

Written by the late gospel great Dottie Rambo, the song takes up just 91 seconds of time. It is the most enjoyable, uplifting minute and a half on the record -- or just about anywhere. Maxine sang the lead with her sibling backing her on a "call and response" throughout the song. Regardless of a person's religious belief, the pure joy of this song will lift their spirit.

The Browns have performed numerous "reunion" shows on the Grand Ole Opry and the Midnite Jamboree in Nashville that have filled the auditoriums. The joy of the music provided by the first family of harmony is the reason people pack the house. That joy is most evident in the brief by exceptional "When I Lift Up My Head."


The entire Jim Edward, Maxine and Bonnie Brown album
-- golden nuggets ("Lookin' Back to See," "I Heard the Bluebirds Sing"), an early Conway Twitty composition ("The Table Next to Me"), and a cover photo featuring Jim Ed holding Hawkshaw Hawkins' guitar.

"The Bandit" (from Three Shades of Brown) -- the theme to the 1953 film O Cangaceiro gets the harmony treatment from the Browns.

"Man With a Plan" (available on The Three Bells 8-CD set) -- a fun song written by Ira Louvin.

"The Three Bells" -- it may sound strange to include this, since it was not only the biggest hit of the Browns' career but one of the biggest songs in country music history, but get this recording out and enjoy it. It is a masterpiece. If you don't have goosebumps, have someone check your pulse.


Rose of My Heart
Rock of Ages, Hide Thou Me
Our Town
Old Memories Mean Nothing to Me
Not That I Care
Nobody Eats at Linebaugh's Anymore
My Book of Memories
Lost to a Stranger
A Little Bitty Heart
Life Has Its Little Ups and Downs
Life is Too Short
I Want a Home in Dixie
I Lost Today
Down to the River to Pray
Don't Let the Stars Get in Your Eyeballs
A Death in the Family
Dark as a Dungeon
Bottomless Well

Stealin' Time
Starting Tomorrow
Sleep's Dark and Silent Gate
She's a Runaway
Painted Bells
Out to Sea
One More Song
New Delhi Freight Train
Long Way Home
Heart of Rome
Harriet Tubman's Gonna Carry Me Home
Entella Hotel
Desperados Under the Eaves
Crossing Muddy Waters
Cliffs of Dooneen
Bruised Orange (Chain of Sorrow)
Baby Mine

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