September 2006

Greg Brown - The Evening Call
Red House Records RHR CD 198
Format: CD
Released: 2006

by David J. Cantor

Musical Performance ****1/2
Recording Quality ****1/2
Overall Enjoyment ****1/2

Despite limited space, it’s hard not to quote some of the intriguing opening lines from the songs on Greg Brown's new CD, The Evening Call. "I woke up this morning wishing it would rain." "I had my fun, my fun had me." "I fell in love like a drunk in a pond." "There’s a tenderloin special at the Sak ‘N’ Save, the sky is a dirty sock." It gets better from there. Or worse, depending on how you look at it.

Brown has released almost two dozen albums -- awe-inspiring stamina -- receiving the Indie award for Album of the Year and Grammy nominations, and he has a way of delivering such lines that is particular to great songwriters who are also great performers. He doesn't so much say, "Hey, look how clever I am," as draw you into a richly textured world of word and sound. Though blues-oriented, these tunes exit strict blues boundaries for other singer-songwriter territories, and this is welcome wandering.

Not being a household name may be to Brown's credit. You can almost hear a media-mogul huddle: "We can’t put this guy on TV. ‘Nipples the size of jackballs’?! ‘She put her ring in her underwear drawer / While the world tumbled from war to war’?!" Brown’s work distresses to enlighten, saddens to amuse, shocks to record a human life. This is rich earth for contemporary music.

Brown and the other excellent players were meticulously miked, engineered, and mixed at Ardent Studios in Memphis. The sound is so present and clear, you wonder, Can it be blues if it sounds this good? Shouldn’t such gritty material scrape and rattle or include some blatant mistakes? Maybe this album’s all-around high quality will finally build the mass audience that Greg Brown and his startling first lines deserve.