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October 2002

Norman Brown
Just Chillin'
Warner Brothers

When guitarist Norman Brown says, "Just chillin'," he's not kidding around. His second Warner Brothers release is truly a laid-back affair-almost too relaxed. Just Chillin' often lacks the trademark zestfulness that the guitarist, who's considered a culmination of Jimi Hendrix and George Benson with some Wes Montgomery thrown in, usually delivers. Instead, the CD is overrun with light grooving instrumentals and unhurried romantic forays sung by pop singers Michael McDonald, Chante Moore, Miki Howard and Debbie Nova. By no means are the vocalists' selections atrocious; they all possess a pleasant, soulful aura, but except for "I Still Believe," passionately sung by McDonald, they're far removed from the essence of the guitarist.

In fact, only the title track and the Latin-tinged "Dancing in the House," both moderately upbeat contemporary jams, strongly exhibit Brown's normal instrumental acumen. And when he's not in a subordinated role to the vocalists, Brown mostly sets relaxing moods with gentle riffs and chords.

Fortunately, he achieves more palatable results on "Night Drive," with the aid of Rick Braun's trumpet stylings, and on a very appealing cover of Janet Jackson's "Let's Wait Awhile," which overflows with some of Brown's most refined and touching playing. It's definitely the CD's high point. Without question, several more numbers in that vein would have really inspired some cool chillin'.

Originally published in October 2002
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