Review : Greg Brown - Freak Flag
PopmattersAmong the most consistently rewarding singer-songwriters of the past three decades, Iowa’s Greg Brown has quietly become a living legend in the folk music world. Founder of the iconic “Red House” folk label in the early 1980s, and former musical director for Garrison Keelor’s “A Prairie Home Companion” radio show, Brown has served as a kind of beacon to aspiring folkies for several decades. A distinctive, idiosyncratic lyricist with an unmistakable baritone growl of a voice, he is probably not to everyone’s taste. But to those who are drawn to his earthbound wisdom, his careful critiques of postmodern society (including the process he refers to as the “blandification of our whole situation”), and his gorgeous melodies, he stands atop the pile.
Especially on his astounding run of top-shelf records in the 1990s – such as desert-island qualifiers like Further In and The Poet Game – many of Brown’s songs have felt like immediate standards, suddenly familiar and timeless on first listen. Indeed, on the indispensable 2003 release, Going Driftless: An Artists’ Tribute to Greg Brown, some of his best material was covered to powerful effect by some of the leading names in the genre. On that record, a dreamy list of female singer-songwriters including Ani DiFranco, Lucinda Williams, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Gillian Welch, Eliza Gilkyson, and Shawn Colvin all came to worship at his altar. Greg Brown has clearly exerted a powerful influence.
But since 2000, he has slipped a bit from this commanding perch, releasing records that have sometimes felt unfinished, under-baked, or inessential. Unfortunately, the trend continues on Freak Flag, a disappointing set of sleepy songwriting featuring even sleepier production values. Though there are inevitable moments of shiny genius – there can be no doubt that at his best Greg Brown is among the finest writers and performers of his generation – there are far more moments too easily forgotten....full text
DirectcurrentmusicGreg Brown - As straight, true and long-running as a deserted prairie highway, the prolific songwriter has practically invented the alt-folk and Americana genre over three decades and two dozen albums...known for his gruff, leathery baritone and stinging blues-inflected guitar, Brown is also husband to Iris Dement and father to Pieta Brown -- each of whom contribute a song to his first album in four years // Release: Freak Flag (May 10, Yep Roc) // Sounds like: longtime collaborator Bo Ramsey's production captures a sound that puts Brown's voice front and center, surrounded by a stark alt-country and blues backing... legendary guitarist Richard Bennett haunts the album like a dark, vivid dream // Quote: "I wasn't sure for a while that I would do any more recording. I had done a fair amount, and the business is in a shambles. But I thought well, hey--maybe it would be good to put another one out--tender songs for these harsh times." // What we like: Mark Knopfler's eerie fret shadings on the atmospheric "Flat Stuff"...the easy shamble of the biographical title track...daughter Pieta's shimmering "Remember the Sun"......full text
BostomGreg Brown’s 24th album comes with an unusual back story. After lightning destroyed one set of recordings, Brown wrote a batch of new songs and split for Memphis’s legendary Ardent Studios, where he started recording again from scratch. The autobiographical title tune is all that remains from the doomed sessions. Brown sings of coming of age during Vietnam, and of promising his dying preacher father to use his music “to raise a hopeful cry.’’ And like any good, individualistic American to “let my freak flag fly.’’ The newer songs include some uptempo ones (“Someday House’’), others slower and more pensive. “I Don’t Know Nobody in This Town’’ is a countrified look at recent American alienation (“Now, the USA is out of touch/ Looks like the big dog ate too much/ Whining and turning, whining and turning around/ And I don’t know anybody in this town’’). Brown turns his raspy growl loose, savoring slow covers of his equally talented singer-songwriter wife Iris Dement’s “Let the Mystery Be’’ and his daughter Pieta Brown’s “Remember the Sun.’’ It adds up to one heck of a salvage job. (Out now)...full text
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