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Greg Brown's "Freak Flag" captures America

Yep Roc Records
"Freak Flag" by Greg Brown
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ARTIST: Greg Brown

ALBUM: Freak Flag

LABEL: Yep Roc Records

YEAR: 2011

I first came across the music of folk singer Greg Brown while watching the 1999 film Jesus’ Son, where his classic song “The Iowa Waltz” was featured.

I immediately sought out the song, finding it on his 1981 album of the same name. I was an instant fan! I would then catch up on the old stuff and start enjoying the new stuff. I loved his song “Fairfield,” about the Iowa town that was taken over by “floaters” (the yogic flying followers of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi) or the sublime “Smell of Coffee” with its “crack of dawn” vibe that you can almost feel.

The magic of Brown’s acoustic-based music, delivered in that distinct, coarse-n-raspy way, is that he captured the sound and feel of the rural Midwest, or his “Hacklebarney” corner of Iowa.

After many recordings over the past 30 years, 24 to date, this Hawkeye State troubadour has released some top-notch Americana albums. Some, of course, better than others. With the newly-released, Bo Ramsey-produced Freak Flag, Brown returns with a heartfelt collection of songs that don’t always soar but shows an artist doing his best to make sure of the world around him.

Brown and guitarist Bo Ramsey take a bluesy path on “Mercy Mercy Mercy” and covers his daughter Pieta Brown’s song “Remember The Sun.” This folk-rock gem really soars and shows Brown at his most inspired.

Over a gentle, brushes-on-snare beat, Brown sings to his fellow bohemian baby boomers (and the rest of us): “Well look around, it’s so hard to see / what’s happening to our big family / I’m an American, I’m gonna let my freak flag fly.”

Brown croaks through the meandering “Flat Stuff,” an 80’s-era song that has been part of his live shows but never recorded in the studio.

Bringing to mind Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young” is Brown’s spare-and-bittersweet “Tenderhearted Child.” A lovely song and among Brown’s best.

Brown’s wife, fellow folkie Iris DeMent, is known for her gorgeous song “Let the Mystery Be.” Brown decides to give the song a try and the results are quite appealing.

He does have his finger on the pulse of American culture and current events, as we hear on “I Don’t Know Anyone In This Town,” a song that Moore’s favorite son, Toby “Big Dog Daddy” Keith should pay attention to: “Now the USA is out of touch / Looks like the big dog ate too much.” Brown indicates that after 10 years of war following 9/11, this “big dog” has some serious indigestion.

I would have to say Mr. Brown is absolutely right about that.

Freak Flag isn’t an essential disc in Greg Brown’s extensive repertoire, but it does capture the murky zeitgeist currently taking hold in America. It reflects it well.

Copyright 2011 The Norman Transcript

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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