One of American folk music’s most prolific and profound singer/songwriters of the past three decades, Greg Brown has earned respect from his peers and a far-flung, passionately-devoted fan-base via a burnished, intimate baritone, a seemingly effortless gift for swinging, organic melody and–perhaps most of all–a humble, unvarnished poetic grace that can imbue even the most mundane, everyday human endeavors and emotions with quiet dignity, startling insight and gently twisted humor.
Freak Flag (the Iowa native’s 24th studio album and first on Yep Roc) was recorded–for the most part–in Memphis, Tennessee’s time-tested rock’n’soul incubator Ardent Studios with the artist’s longtime sidekick/guitarist Bo Ramsey producing; it features nine Brown originals plus a gorgeous pair of cuts ‘borrowed’ from his mega-talented family–wife Iris Dement’s “Let the Mystery Be” and daughter Pieta Brown’s “Remember the Sun.”
Additionally–in an embarrassment of six-string riches–Ramsey’s trademark atmospheric soundscapes and stinging blues licks are augmented on a half-dozen tracks by studio legend Richard Bennett (Steve Earle, Rodney Crowell, Vince Gill, Billy Joel, Dire Straits, etc.) plus–on the evocative, haunting “Flat Stuff”–an elegant cameo solo by Dire Straits’ Mark Knopfler.
The four year gap since Brown’s last studio effort (2007’sYellow Dog) is by far the longest since his 1981 Red House Records debut, and, with Greg weighing considerations of a new addition to the family in 2005, the accumulated wear-and-tear of touring and the uncertainties of a record industry in upheaval, the new album very nearly didn’t happen at all.
“I wasn’t sure for a while that I would do any more recording,” Greg confessed. “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.”
The Freak Flag project originally launched in a Twin Cities’ suburb, where Brown, Ramsey and crew recorded the basic tracks direct-to-digital (for the first time ever). But, as fate would have it, a massive thunderstorm blew through the area before most of the tracks could be safely backed-up, so when lightning zapped the studio, all cuts–excepting the title track and “Lovinest One”–were transported electrically (the very old-fashioned way) into the remotest recesses of a digital Valhalla.
(Judge for yourself whether ‘outside forces’ were at work then, reminding these decidedly ‘old school’ roots mavens in no uncertain terms of the brittle, ephemeral aspects of digital technology…)
In any case, they high-tailed it to the cozy, sepia-toned confines of Memphis’ Ardent Studios, where the likes of The Box Tops, Big Star, Leon Russell, The Replacements, Led Zep, R.E.M., The White Stripes and so many more before them had captured timeless aural magic on magnetic tape.
The resulting sessions captured another kind of lightning in a bottle: a seamless Americana quilt of country, blues, folk and old-time balladry delving into the singer/songwriter’s recurring themes of the challenges, pitfalls and rewards of marriage and family pitted against grimmer, outward-looking explorations of such crushing socio/political issues as wanton materialism, superficial celebrity and a blind, headlong surrender to modernization at all costs.
7pm doors | 8pm show | $35 adv. | $40 day of