[Today: Greg Brown wants to tell you a good story…]
Singer-songwriter Greg Brown isn’t a household name, and he’s just fine with that. Never one to bow down to the music industry, this longtime Iowa resident instead blazed his own trail by self-releasing his first two albums in the mid-80’s. Brown nearly ditched his singing career before turning to the independent label Red House, which was created by his friend Bob Feldman specifically to release Brown’s music.
His songs also live outside the typical frame of musical reference, filled as they are with lonely drifters, nutty hillbillies, failing farmers, abused wives, and other folks living on the fringe of society. Like William Faulkner before him, Brown’s small town characters live at the crossroads of despair and hope, and it’s clear which direction they’re being pulled in. He consistently paints impressionist pictures that are filled with just enough detail, allowing him to flesh out his characters in a few well-chosen words. As AllMusic.com puts it, “he knows how to write songs that are lyrically memorable even when they’re hard to explain.” He also sports a rough yet rich baritone that adds a depth of feeling and authenticity to all his music.
Brown has released more than two dozen albums over the course of his career, but 1997’s Slant 6 Mind is his masterwork. A “transcendental hillbilly beatnik jive tent meeting” is how Red House described the album upon release, and it’s a fittingly jumbled description of the breadth of the viewpoints represented here. Brown moves effortlessly from heartfelt love songs (‘Vivid’) to autobiography (‘Speaking In Tongues’) to darkness on the edge of town (‘Billy From The Hills’) and well beyond. Slant 6 Mind strongly suggests that there are no subjects or scenes beyond the grasp of his songwriting abilities.
His mother played the electric guitar, his father was a Pentecostal preacher, and both had a huge influence upon his sound and subject matter. Because while Greg Brown’s songs are rooted in a world filled with hatred, anger, sorrow, sin, loneliness, and boredom, they’re backed by the feeling that redemption is always within reach, and might be just around the corner.
Listen: Billy From The Hills