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Greg Brown's "Freak Flag" captures America

Yep Roc Records
"Freak Flag" by Greg Brown
Fertile Ground Compost Service
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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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