Was it kismet or planned that Solo Sounds — a label devoted to nothing but recordings of single-instrument performances — released Mike "Slo-Mo" Brenner's all-slide-guitar re-interpretation of the classic The Velvet Underground & Nico LP just as that record turned 50 over the weekend? (Precise birthdate: March 12, 1967.) Either way, it’s a gift. While the original sounds as fresh, current and frankly even a little dangerous today (such an odd power, at this late date), Brenner’s take offers a lot of new windows on the monumental debut by the Velvets.
That’s his instrumental duty, of course. After fronting the The Low Road throughout the 1990s, Brenner has become a journeyman of the slide — both the lap steel guitar and its Indian cousin, the chaturangui. Together, they’ve taken him around the world and back; his playing has been heard on everything from Badly Drawn Boy to Brenner’s own record with the rapper Mic Wrecka, and a few years back, he went to India on what may be the deepest dive ever on the chaturangui taken by a Westerner. These days, he’s also back on the road with the reconstructed alt-country band Marah.
And on Solo Slide Guitar: Mike Brenner Performs The Velvet Underground and Nico, Brenner quite rightly lets his ordinarily discreet inner sideman wander with purpose through this most beloved set of tunes. The first thing you notice is how pretty the melodies are on this first VU outing, even when they’re buried under a wall a fried amp crust — Brenner’s version of “Heroin” hands it right over. The second thing is what great natural momentum there is to the songs, for here’s one guy playing “I’m Waiting For The Man” on nothing but an acoustic slide guitar. There’s plenty of other revelations buried in here, too, so we’ll leave you to them, except to say also that Brenner is doing a bit of a casual residency this month at Old City Coffee. Let him be your “Sunday Morning” adjunct.