BAG OF TRICKS

For a lot of people, Junior Brown is the guy in the madcap videos, wearing an old-fashioned suit and playing his patented Guit-Steel instrument. Now the mega-talented performer wonders if those popular clips have given people the wrong impression. "The videos had a tendency to go too far," Junior figures. " 'My Wife Thinks You're Dead' and 'Highway Patrol' had a take-it-funny-or-take-it-serious, tongue-in-cheek attitude like the Keystone Cops. And they did very well for me.

"But in 'Venom Wearing Denim' things started to get a little too funny - and there's so much more to my music. I really don't want to be pigeonholed that way."

So it's a more serious Junior Brown we hear on his new album, Mixed Bag. For instance, on "Grow Up America" he decries what he sees as the sorry state of parenting today. "It hits home about how I feel," declares Junior, who has two children and a grandchild.

"Kids have a right to a safe environment to grow up in," he adds, "and I'm very concerned about them not having anyone to speak for them. There's too much abuse and neglect in this country. This song's how I feel about it, and hopefully, it'll be something people will understand on both sides of the political spectrum."

Another Mixed Bag tune close to Junior's heart is his version of Jerry Reed's "Guitar Man." "It's the story of my life," he reveals. "Tryin' to make a living, tryin' to play that old guitar."

Junior reached back to his childhood for inspiration on another of the album's cover songs, "Riverboat Shuffle." "It's a Dixieland jazz tune by Hoagy Carmichael that I always wanted to record," he explains. "My dad had it, and I grew up listening to this record. It was interesting to bring my own thing to it."

And just so Junior didn't get too serious - he's tossed in some silly songs, like the playful "Ain't Gonna Work Today."

"People have told me it's a lazy man's anthem," he chuckles. "When I got into the studio, I unconsciously gave it sort of a Bing Crosby feel. Most country singers who came up in 1950s and '60s were influenced by Bing Crosby, whether they knew it or not. I get more of an appreciation for it as the years go by."

You can also spy Junior's funny side in several new commercials, including one for Mountain Dew's Code Red. "That was fun, playing my red Guit-Steel, drinking Code Red, just playing and talking," he recalls. He also wrote and sang a song for a new Lee Jeans ad. "The visuals are interesting," he promises, "because they have a lot of humor - like my videos!"

Looks like Junior has found the perfect balance between serious and zany. And his fans couldn't be happier.

- Darryl Morden

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