The first thing you’ll notice about Brownbird Rudy Relic is his voice. It’s impossible not to. Put simply, it’s powerful. If someone told you he swallowed an amplifier at a young age, you’d think twice before calling them on that statement.
Perhaps one reason for the overwhelming force of Relic’s vocals is that he honed his voice not in a studio, but rather on the streets. He was originally a street busker, traveling around the United States before eventually settling in New York. It’s not hard to imagine that power and natural vibrato ringing throughout the various corridors of New York’s subway system.
Aside from his booming voice and steel resonator, there’s one other signature aspect of Relic’s music: the kazoo. The kazoo is not a beautiful instrument. In most cases, it’s downright annoying. In the hands (or mouth, rather) of Brownbird Rudy Relic, it’s a perfect complement to his old-time sound, becoming less of a glorified duck call and more of an extension of his voice. To put it another way, he makes the kazoo sing.
The self-proclaimed originator of “holler blues,” Relic blends pre-war country blues with other blues sub-genres such as hokum, ragtime, doo-wop, and even sprinkles in a pinch of Mexican romantic ballads and corridos. It’s an old sound, yet also entirely new.
Relic extends that old sound into his recording methods as well. For example, he recorded his debut, “Anti-Stereo Acoustic Holler Blues” using an Ampex 1-track home recorder from the late 1940’s, splitting the one track to two Model 55 Shure Unidynes from the 30’s, resulting in a record that sounds as if it was produced around the same time as Charley Patton or Son House.
Don’t mistake an old sound for a lack of energy, however. If anything, Relic is bursting at the seams with energy. You can hear as much in his music, but that boiling energy is increased tenfold at his live shows. Relic doesn’t just play his music, he performs it with theatric flair, dancing, jumping, twisting and turning while he plays.
Brownbird Rudy Relic currently has three records available on Reltone records: the aforementioned “Anti-Stereo Acoustic Holler Blues,” “I am the Juke!” and his latest, “Chicano Dynamite.” He eschews the old recording equipment on the later two albums, allowing for a clearer sound, though not diminishing the quality.