Brushy One String: The King of One String Review

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AKA: The King of One String
Genre: Music Documentary
Year Released: 2014

Distributor: Unlicensed

Origin: USA/Jamaica
Running Time: 8 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: PG

Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: Rise Up, Roots Reggae Rebellion, Word Sound and Power, Reincarnated, Danielson: A Family Movie, Reggae in Babylon, Searching for Sugarman
Notes:
-Brushy One String: The King of One String is streaming on YouTube.

Fun Facts:
-The King of One String is directed by American filmmaker Luciano Blotta. He discovered Brushy One String while filming Rise Up which deals with Jamaica’s music scene. Outside of his directorial and producer work, he was a camera operator for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Blades of Glory, two movies from the Fast and the Furious series (2 Fast 2 Furious and Tokyo Drift), and two episodes of The Only Way Is Essex.

-Brushy One String is actually the son of a reggae singer Freddie McKay. At the time of this review, he’s released three full length albums, one live album at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, and one acoustic album. His popularity increased not just because of the aforementioned Rise Up documentary, but also due to having fans from the Threesome podcast.

-Kingston, Jamaica is the 5th most populated city in the Caribbean and the largest Anglophone city in that region with over a million people.


Despite some of the music documentaries I’ve covered in 2020 so far, I’ve actually been out of the loop when it comes to music scene. The ones I did cover so far mainly focused on bands and singers I already knew and own music from. One remedy was checking out NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts. Say what you will about NPR, but those concert videos can totally be binge watched or as background music. I checked out a few from singers and bands I knew, but I decided to check out some people I had never heard of. One particular case involved an acoustic singer/songwriter from Kingston, Jamaica who played solo with a one-stringed guitar which blew my mind. Of course, I’ll spare you obvious jokes about him being a glorified bassist, imagining if he had five more strings, being a djent artist, and aggravating people with actual music degrees. Surprisingly, I’m shocked no one made an obvious reference (to me anyway) to “Torches Together” by mewithoutYou. Sorry, Aaron Weiss and company, but the existence of this Jamaican musician makes your quotable lyric among other lyrics of “Why pluck one string when you can strum the guitar?” invalid. Here’s said Tiny Desk Concert if you want to check him out in addition to this documentary.



Brushy One String: The King of One String is about that unorthodox musician. Brushy One String (real name: Andrew Chin) has played shows in and outside of his home country of Jamaica. He got his first guitar when he was twelve years old, but instead of playing typically with six strings, he only resorted to one string ever since. His playing style is based on reggae and blues, but he plays the notes sort of like a bass while slapping the body of the guitar as percussion in between the notes. Brushy tried to make it by competing in a music reality show, but was disqualified due to his age, but his work became viral through YouTube.

If I had seen this documentary or at the very least listened to his music at least a decade ago, I would’ve dismissed him right away since I was deep in my post-rock phase which I regret despite still enjoying experimental forms of music. Nowadays, I see the talent of Brushy One String and “get” his music which shows how far I’ve come since then. There is a sense of minimalism there, but they feel like real songs and there’s a sense of authenticity that I don’t see too often. In a weird way, this reminds me about some folk punk artists in a way with making some unorthodox acoustic music and while I wouldn’t call Brushy a folk punk artist from a musical genre standpoint, the ideology is still there. He’s got a staunch DIY ethic to a fault and doesn’t seem to care about emulating musical trends. It’s also great how he’s loved in his home country regardless. I thought it was a great directorial choice with showing multiple songs with him performing them, so someone gets a good glimpse of what Brushy sounds like. The directorial choice of having a cinema verite look was a good pick which gives a naturalistic look and even adds to the aesthetics of Brushy’s music of being quite earthy. The other interviewees such as his friends Wise Heart and Beenie Man’s stepfather (dead serious) had their own quirky thoughts. Wise Heart thought it was a grave injustice that Brushy didn’t win that music TV show competition like it was highway robbery. Beenie Man’s stepfather goes as far to say that Brushy One String is the best at what he does in his music and would be more talented using one string than if B. B. King and Eric Clapton cut off the other five strings to try and to the same thing. Those aspects made this a good watch.

The King of One String could use some tuning in different parts. I thought the documentary was way too short. I could easy see this being twice or even three times as long to get more insight on Brushy or at least getting more thoughts from around Kingston about his music and presence in Jamaica’s music scene. There was an over-reliance of text to explain things when it could’ve been solved with interviews or archived footage. I understand the intro explaining about Brushy a little bit, but this became distracting and didactic. Brushy’s music may not be for everyone. While he does have a good voice, not everyone would understand his music or find it to be too stripped down even for acoustic music fans. Brushy’s real last name was misspelled in the video as Chinn instead of Chin, so that has to be noticed. Those were some of the shortcomings that I noticed with this particular short doc.

I do hope Brushy One String continues singing and having a one string revolution. The King of One String was a unique and fun watch from a singer I discovered out of the blue. This documentary does a great job showcasing his music, getting his insight on his musical ideology, and the other interviewees had fun commentary about him as an artist. However, the very short length and egregious text transitions did hamper this down a bit. My sense of music has certainly been upended by seeing Brushy One String making something out of extreme constraints which I certainly respect.



Adjustable Rating System:

Add 1-2 points if you’re a Brushy One String fan.
Add 1 point if you like acoustic, reggae, or blues music.
Subtract 1-2 point if you want higher production values.
Subtract 1-2 points if you like more typical forms of music creation and production.

Pros:

-Cinema verite production works
-Creative music from Brushy One String and gets a good amount of the spotlight
-Fun commentary from the interviewees

Cons:
-Far too short
-Too many text interludes
-There should’ve been more interviewees

Final Score: 7/10 points

Content Warning: The King of One String should be fine for most audiences. There are a few things worth noting though. There is a brief scene of smoking and Wise Heart talks about Brushy One String getting stabbed by a woman. While you don’t see the action, there is a scene where Brushy has a large bandage on his back where the wound is.

-Curtis Monroe

All photos and videos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws. Brushy One String: The King of One String is property of Brushy One String and Luciano Blotta. The screenshot is from YouTube and is property of Brushy One String and Luciano Blotta.

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