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By Photo courtesy of David Karnowski
By MATT MUNOZ, Californian contributing columnist
He may be known as A Black Sunday, but for folk singer Brent Brown, life has been anything but shrouded in darkness. A familiar face at a number of restaurants and troubadour-friendly establishments scattered throughout the city, the Australian-born singer-songwriter plans to open the book on his travels at a special show to celebrate the arrival of his new CD, "Learning to Crawl," at the Prospect Lounge inside the Padre Hotel on Thursday night.
"The reaction has been fantastic," said Brown, 44, of the feedback he has received from audiences in Kern County, his home since arriving from Australia eight years ago. "People are really digging what I do and finding a connection to my songs."
Brent Brown is A Black Sunday
When: 8:30 p.m. Thursday
Where: Prospect Lounge at the Padre Hotel, 1702 18th St.
I first met Brown hosting open-mic nights at Fishlips in 2010. It was the accent that grabbed my attention, leading to a lot of conversations about his home country and music in general.
"When I first met you at those open-mic nights, I really had no idea who I was musically or what I wanted to do with it. I just knew I had a lot of stuff to write," said Brown, who moved around a lot during his childhood due to the nature of his father's work, even landing in London for a year before finally settling in a town on the northern beaches of Sydney.
Brown worked steadily in a number of bands throughout the '80s, unaware of what was about to happen: the Aussie music invasion of States. Bands like Men at Work, INXS, Midnight Oil and others, some of whom he'd shared stages with, would become global hit makers.
"It is very different to the music scene here," he said of his home country. "Although it is definitely as diverse and vibrant as the American scene, the whole country is spread out a lot more so a musician has to travel longer distances to reach the same size audience. We tend to have huge festivals peppered all over the country that bring musicians and fans together."
So how does an aspiring musician from Down Under end up in Kern County? You guessed it: Love. Brown's wife, Kayla, is from Bakersfield.
"We met on a dive trip on the Great Barrier Reef. I was working aboard a dive boat that goes out on five-day trips on the Ribbon Reefs and to Osprey Reef in the Coral Sea. After a whirlwind romance and a five-continent, 12-month trip, we ended up here."
Brown recalls arriving in Kern County in 2005, adjusting to a new home he eventually learned to love.
"We lived in a cabin in Wofford Heights. Coming from the beaches and ocean life of Australia, figuratively, I was a fish out of water. And living on the mountain, I felt like I was already traveling. When I travel, I like to live somewhere for a bit and really get a feel for the place. So I spent quite a bit of time learning to fly fish and snowboard, did a few hikes and chopped fire wood; it was awesome. It also gave me the opportunity to start playing and writing again and I found that the beauty and nature of the Sierras gave me the headspace to reflect and just write honest songs."
Brown admitted his only knowledge of Bakersfield came through "Hee Haw," a show popular with his own family.
"I had definitely heard of Buck Owens and Merle Haggard. Half my family comes from Tamworth, the country music capital of Australia, and they love 'em there. They all loved Dolly Parton and Kenny, Johnny and Buck and Merle on 'Hee Haw.' I just had no idea of the relationship with Bakersfield. I remember telling my uncle that I was moving here. He instantly said, 'What? The Bakersfield in the Buck Owens/Dwight Yoakam song?' I said, 'Yeah, I guess so.' He was stoked, and I guess I was a bit too."
After making a few connections in Bakersfield, where he now resides, Brown formed the Chaz Brown Band (his middle name is Charles) before regrouping as The Black Sundays, performing all original material. The band made semi-regular performances at Fishlips, Riley's, B Ryder's and others, but eventually disbanded.
"I have always played originals in the bands I have had in Bakersfield, but it was always was very difficult to keep the players together with family and work commitments."
Those experiences didn't curb Brown's decision to continue pursuing his art. Looking for a new direction, he found inspiration in a voice from back home: John Butler, who performs solo, using a wooden box called a "stomp box."
"He used a wooden box with a mic in it and stomped his foot on it for a beat. I created something similar and after a bit of tweaking, it sounded great and, boom, I had a new sound and direction. I guess the whole concept of the foot stomp box comes from the south by trying to re-create the sound of stomping your work boot on a wooden front porch while playing some hardcore blues. That was when I decided to go solo."
Brown described his decision to continue performing under the name A Black Sunday as a personal reflection of his music and a tribute to those who overcome periods of darkness.
"I write a lot about getting through hard times and overcoming tough situations, so I wanted a name for the band that reflected that and also have a tie to Bakersfield. The Black Sundays came to me after researching the Dust Bowl era in the 1930s and how Bakersfield ended up being the place that people could start a fresh new life, albeit not an easy one, after fleeing the dust storms of the Midwest and the famous Black Sunday.
"We also have a Black Sunday in Australia that was named after the devastating 1955 bushfires, another situation where people had pushed through a hard time to come out on top. When the band parted ways, I was the only Black Sunday left, so I called myself Brent Brown is A Black Sunday and it kind of just stuck."
Performing eight to 12 shows a month all over Bakersfield, Brown has logged countless hours in front of audiences of every size.
"One thing I have noticed in Bakersfield is that the audiences are very appreciative and loyal; they also love an accent. If you do the right thing by a Bakersfield audience, they will stick with you."
Brown hopes a positive response to "Learning to Crawl" will help increase his gig schedule. Recorded locally at Rocketship Studio, the 10-track release features Brown alone with his guitar and stomp box.
"There is an underlying theme throughout my songs of hardship and overcoming difficult times as well as environmental and human rights issues. 'Learning to Crawl' is the first song on the album and I wrote that song about the human tendency to bury the past and allow the same mistakes to be made over and over again. There are also songs like 'Just Begun' and 'Logan's Song' about losing loved ones and moving on without them."
Copies of "Learning to Crawl," will be sold at the show for $10, and available for download at iTunes and other digital distribution sites.