Tuesday, August 03, 2010

album of the day: Further In

I first encountered Greg Brown as a fairly frequent guest on Prairie Home Companion in the late 1980s. His style of playing and singing, his stage presence (radio presence, I suppose), and even the songs themselves, had the warmest, most inviting, comfortable, hospitable quality. Unless you simply have no patience whatsoever for anything resembling folk music, it's got to be very hard not to love his stuff.

Perhaps Brown's hospitality and warmth became central to his style when he had a gig playing for mentally disabled and shut-ins in Iowa. I don't know. But unlike what my mental stereotype of such a singer-songwriter would be like, Brown is never treacly or preachy or any of that.

Years later, when I started listening more deeply to folk music, I fairly randomly picked this album up at some record store somewhere. I can't recall where or when. It was produced in 1996, so my guess is that I got it out here in California rather than in Pittsburgh, which means I spent nearly a decade with a Greg-Brown-shaped void in my life. This is very hard to fathom now, ten years or so later, because I have played this cd to pieces. There are approximately three reasons why.

The first is the aforementioned character of Greg Brown's music. Every track on this album has that feel. He pulls it off with his rough warm baritone, his laid-back but not inert playing, and his felicitous and studiously cliché-avoiding lyrics.

Second is that this album is perfect. Well, alright, close. Every song is well-turned, sounds great, is played wonderfully, and presents genuine recognizable human emotions and situations from a mature, intelligent, adult perspective that never condescends. And it sounds like these are a bunch of guys hanging around your living room who just happen to be excellent musicians. The production captures the Greg-Browniness of Greg Brown perfectly.

Third is that the songs address a range of states of being wide enough that it's a lovely album to play in practically any mood that isn't accompanied by an extreme of one agitation or another. Saturday morning, relaxing over coffee and orange-flesh melon? Sure. Thursday night around 9:30, just finishing a stack of urgent grading? You betcha. Taking the scenic route over the Altamont to avoid the maniacs on 205? Righto. After or before a tense meeting? Yup.

I suspect my favorite track is the rather sad opening track, "Small Dark Movie," which uses diurnal details of the addressee's life as a lesson in the mundanity of evil and the futility of existence. No kidding. My second favorite is likely "Hey Baby Hey," which is about being so full of love and adoration that you're left stupidly unable to say anything else. I think Lauren's favorite is "Where is Maria?" My favorite lyric from that goes:

there's a young fellow rockin' in a thump thump car
and he's smug as a commentator on NPR
and our foolish government tries to save face
while the whole world struggles to become one bland place

but where is maria?

there's a millionaire singing about nothing at all
but he looks pretty good and he's knocking 'em dead down at the mall
there's a woman weary of the look in men's eyes
when they don't look she just turns away and sighs

but where is maria?

The cover art is by Greg Brown, by the way. It seems to be called "Couple."

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