Monday, January 19, 2009

*The Poet’s Game- The Music Of Folk’s Greg Brown- “Solid Heart”

Click on title to link to YouTube's film clip of Greg Brown performing "our Little Town"

Solid Heart: The In-Harmony Benefit Concert, Greg Brown with Dave Carter and Tracey Grammer, In-Harmony, 1999

Revised December 19, 2008


The first two paragraphs have been used in other reviews of folk musician/singer/songwriter Greg Brown’s work.

Greg Brown is a particular kind of folk singer who before I listened to his “Greg Brown-The Live One ” album reviewed elsewhere in this space I had not really paid attention to since the days of my early youth when I listened intently to Woody Guthrie whose songs were seemingly forged from the very heart of Americana. As a child of the urban folk revival of the 1960’s I got caught up in listening to the more political message songs provided by the likes of Bob Dylan or Phil Ochs. As a poet/singer/songwriter Greg has come out of the heartland of America, like Woody, in a fury to write and sing his tales of love, remembrance, tragedy, desperation and, on occasion, just pure whimsy. He is thus in very good company, and belongs there.

His songs evoke, under more modern conditions to be sure, the days gone by when the community spirit of small town life meant something. A strong bass voice grainy with the trials and tribulations of life lend authenticity to his words, as does strong guitar playing when necessary. Needless to say the variety of topics covered in his songs speak for themselves from Grandma's food cellars to vanishing Iowa family farms to sweaty nights of lovemaking entwined with the up and down battles of love and, of course, the ubiquitous bouts of fishing that gain more than a nod in his albums.

Outstanding in this benefit concert recording for In-Harmony, a foster care program, are the title track, “Solid Heart”, the old stand-by “Further In”, the comic, nicely paced, “I Must Be In Oregon”, and a great “rockin’ cover of the old country bluesman Mississippi Fred McDowell’s tune. “You’ve Got To Move” (also covered by The Rolling Stones). The late Dave Carter and Tracey Grammer are nice additions on a couple of tracks, especially the old madman Carter’s “Don’t Tread On Me”. They are worthy of separate review of their own work.


Cheapest Kind

We travelled Kansas and Missouri spreading the good news
A preachers family in our pressed clothes and worn out polished shoes
Momma fixed us soup beans and served them up by candlelight
She tucked us in at night
Oh she worried through many a sleepless night
Dad and me would stop by the store when the day was done
Standin at the counter he said "I forgot to get the peaches, son."
"What kind should I get?" I said to him there where he stood in line
And he answered just like I knew he would "Go and get the cheapest kind"

[chorus:]
But the love, the love, the love
It was not the cheapest kind
It was rich as, rich as, rich as ,rich as, rich as
Any you could ever find

I see the ghost of my grandfather from time to time
In some big city amongst the people all dressed so fine
He usually has a paper bag clutched real tight
His work clothes are dirty
He don't look at nobody in the eye
Oh he was little, he was wirey, and he was lots of fun
He was rocky as Ozark dirt that he come from
And they was raisin seven children on a little farm
In not the best of times
The few things that they got from the store
Was always just the cheapest kind

[repeat chorus]

Fancy houses with wealthy poeple I don't understand
I always wish I could live holdin on to my grandpa's hand
So he could lead me down that gravel road somewhere
To that little house where there's just enough supper
For whosever there
My people's hands and faces they are so dear to me
All I have to do is close my eyes and I see `em all so near to me
I have to cry I have to laugh
When I think of all the things that have drawn those lines
So many years of makin do with the cheapest kind

[repeat chorus twice]

Our Little Town

Now the railroad came generations ago
And the town grew up as the crops did grow
The crops grew well and the town did too
They say it's dyin now and there ain't a thing we can do
I don't have to read the news
Or hear it on the radio
I see it in the faces of everyone I know
The cost goes up
What we made comes down
What's gonna happen to our little town

The summer is full of thunder
The kids run and play
Momma got a new wrinkle
Poppa ain't got much to say
Rust grows along the railroad track
The young folks leave
They don't come back
And I don't have to read the news
Or hear it on the radio
I see it in the faces of everyone I know
The boards go up
The signs come down
What's gonna happen to our little town

Tom lost his farm
And we lost Tom
He left in the night
I don't know where he's gone
What he'd lost
He just couldn't face
What we're losin' can't be replaced
I don't have to read the news
Or hear it on the radio
I see it in the faces of everyone I know
The reason we're here
Is the farms around
So what's gonna happen to our little town

We've seen hard times
Many times before
Maybe this whole thing is just one more
It never was perfect
Maybe no one's to blame
To see it die like this
It's a god damned shame
And I don't have to read the news
Or hear it on the radio
I see it in the faces of everyone I know
The sun comes up
The sun goes down
But what's gonna happen to our little town

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