Album Review and Interviewed by Joseph Timmons
Brown Sabbath is the alter ego of Austin-based psych-funk collective Brownout who delve deep into reinterpreting the catalog of metal godfathers, Black Sabbath. I want to start with the fact that this is not just a cover album, or even a close rendition, this album is a triumph of masterful composition and performance. I have heard some great covers, but this is so much more. Brownout has taken several tracks made famous by the masters of Metal, Black Sabbath and has rearranged and infused strong and hypnotic ethnic rhythms and Latin flavors to create a Funk / Metal sound that is wholly unique.
“Hand of Doom”, featuring The Black Angels’ Alex Maas on vocals, is the debut single that was first released last May as limited edition, colored splattered 10-inch vinyl with “The Wizard” as the B-side on the Ubiquity Records label. The full-length album, Brownout Presents Brown Sabbath, soon followed this past June to a much anticipated popular release.
Researching the band’s past interviews, Brownout guitarist Adrian Quesada was quoted “The Brown Sabbath idea started out like everything else we do, half inside joke, half psychotic. It was an overly ambitious attempt at challenging ourselves as musicians;” Adrian also commented “Bridging the gap between our music and Black Sabbath is not as far of a stretch as it might seem though. Sabbath was not only heavy, but soulful and funky in their own dark way. Half the band grew up as metal heads too, so it came naturally. The experience is already beginning to influence our next album of original music.”
Brownout, an 8-piece outfit formed ten years ago by members of Grammy Award-winning Latin revival orchestra Grupo Fantasma, since then Brownout evolved into a musical force all its own. After garnering their third Austin Music Award last year, the band has continued to produce music that is unflinchingly progressive, while evoking the classic influences of artists such as WAR, Cymande and Funkadelic. They’ve performed at events including Bonnaroo, High Sierra Music Festival, Pickathon, FFFFest, Bear Creek Music Festival, Utopia Festival and Pachanga Fest, while regularly touring the U.S. Brownout’s also served as a highly in-demand backing band for artists including Prince, Daniel Johnston, GZA and Bernie Worrell.
With its latest recording, Brownout Presents Brown Sabbath, they remain true to the darkness, bombast and fuzz of Sabbath’s sound, while re-imagining the music with greasy Afro-Latin horns, hypnotic percussion and psyched-out, rare-groove improvisation. Every music critic and magazine or journal of music has found this group and the album to be a phenomenal and we anxiously want to see what could be coming next.
As for our review, Brownout Presents Brown Sabbath is a tribute to the legendary music of Black Sabbath, while also being an introduction, and for some of us “old timers” a reintroduction to Urban Groove / Funk Progression. Brownout Presents Brown Sabbath has the presence of a greatest hits or anthology album yet is both fresh and boldly expressive in its originality. By nature, cover songs / albums are all too often renditions of songs that wormed their way through top “40 Pop” or that great song that got way too much airplay and are now done so often they’ve become grotesques of their former selves, leaving the listener wanting to avoid ever listening to it again. Or worse yet, there are some songs that have been done so often, that you can’t remember who originally did the song. Brownout Presents Brown Sabbath has the following songs in its joyfully creative Vinyl Grooves – Wizzard, Iron Man, N.I.B., Black Sabbath, Hand of Doom, Into the Void and Planet Caravan. Now, another great feature of this is some of the songs are instrumental in their entirety, allowing this group of talented artists to truly work their magic on us, allowing the energy of the music and rhythms to flow gracefully from the speakers, and the vocalist while having amazing talents in his original works, does a flawless rendition of Ozzy’s singularly unique voice, while not “trying” to sound like Ozzy. It is no wonder that Ozzy himself has been a great supporter of the bands performances.
Brownout’s discography includes three previously released albums including Homenaje (Freestyle Records 2008), Aguilas & Cobras (Six Degrees 2009) and Oozy (Nat Geo 2012). Presently on tour, Brownout is filling every seat and gaining an even larger following in support this fourth studio album.
The members of Brownout are Gilbert Elorreaga, Mark Gonzales, Greg Gonzalez, Josh Levy, Sweet Lou, Beto Martinez, Adrian Quesada and John Speice. In our interview we have the pleasure of speaking with Beto Martinez for a look into the “behind the scene” point of view at the what, why and when of the inspiration of this album.
How did you get your start in music?
“I grew up near the border in Laredo Texas; I lived in an area where you heard mostly Mexican / Latin Music and “Pop” Music. I have always loved Rock & Roll; I remember my first album was Metal Health by Quiet Riot, soon after I was listening to bands like Sabbath and Metallica. At 13 I got my first guitar, I started practicing and soon after I met my bassist. We’ve played music together for years, we would play in my garage, a couple years later the band formed and we started playing gigs. It’s been fun and I really find I am lucky to be doing music professionally. We play in several bands but this lineup is the core of our music, we want to be versatile and do what we love.”
First question about Brownout Presents Brown Sabbath, Why the music of Black Sabbath?
“We wanted to create from music we respected and wanted to perform, this started really as a “one off”, we had not intended to do an entire album, once that came to be, we decided to choose music that we had to get right. Once in the studio, this album really took off and became a lot more than we had intended.”
The songs you chose for Brownout Presents Brown Sabbath are the major hits of Black Sabbath that, in my opinion would be highly scrutinized. Why did you select the songs you did on Brownout Presents Brown Sabbath?
“Well, we felt that these were the best to do, the original Black Sabbath songs had a natural groove to them, they lent themselves to our style and we felt that we could give them our own twist that would be well received. So far we have not been wrong. For instance, our Saxophonist and Horn’s really went to work and it blows people’s minds live. Some the use of horns and other percussion elements added a special power to the groove.”
Thinking now about the recording process, in the studio, was the recording of this album what you thought it would be, or was there a transformation in material once you started working it?
I would have to really hand this one to our Drummer, his work was inspired and he took the complicated rhythm structure and the sound to a new level. The whole band worked to create a sound that would be fluid, not overthought. In fact, much of it was very natural.
So how has the national tour been so far?
Great, the tour has had fantastic turnouts and enthusiastic crowds. We had stated on the west coast, we are now in east coast and working the way back. Every show has been great. Admittedly, this was not an album we thought we would be putting so much into and we had late bookings. We have no international dates yet, but who knows, may happen.
Does Brownout, have any other tribute style albums planned, say Beatles or Led Zeppelin?
No, not at this time, we want to concentrate on our original material, we do put covers into our sets, but we are a group that wants to be recognized for our own music.
The album cover came together kind of by chance and worked great, it was an in house designer, and we felt it really portrayed what we wanted. The photo is from an old photo shoot we did a long time ago and the label has a great art team, we like it.
What do you see as the biggest help on the promotion and public response to Brownout Presents Brown Sabbath?
We’ve had some great support from public radio and the news media both locally and nationally, college radio and the really great independent stations. As far as the public, wow, it is really fantastic to look out from the stage and see all the people, I’m in a great band doing some great music, and it’s getting better each time we play.
Our special thanks to Beto Martinez for this interview from the road as the band is heading back west and to Brownout for recording an album that is powerful, inspiring and expressive. You can find Brownout Presents Brown Sabbath on Bandcamp and iTunes, additionally, follow Brownout on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Soundcloud, and their website. You can also find them at their label’s website Ubiquity Records - http://www.ubiquityrecords.com.