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This article by Richard J. Skelly was prepared for the November 27, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Son of a Preacher Man

Few folk songwriters are as highly regarded among other

folk songwriters as is Greg Brown. Yet Brown, right, is hardly a household

name to the rest of the world. It has taken Brown many years of touring

and a few lucky breaks, including a Grammy nomination for his 1996

album "Slant 6 Mind" and a recent performance on National

Public Radio’s "All Things Considered," to put his name out

there in the world. Since big commercial radio stations for the most

part don’t play Brown’s music, he has pockets of fans around the U.S.,

Canada, and Europe.

Brown, who lives in Iowa when he is not on the road, makes a stop

in Hightstown Saturday, November 30, for an Outta Sights and Sounds

show.

The son of an electric guitar playing mother and a Pentecostal preaching

father, Brown was raised listening to gospel in rural Iowa. He began

singing at age 18, and won a contest to play an opening set for singer

Eric Andersen in Iowa City. Andersen was sufficiently impressed to

encourage Brown to move east to New York City.

Brown moved to New York to run hootenannies (now known as "open

mike nights") at Gerde’s Folk City, a center for folk and acoustic

blues musicians in the 1960s, 70s, and early 1980s. He later moved

to Los Angeles and Las Vegas but then moved back to Iowa. There he

started Red House Records, and began working on NPR’s "A Prairie

Home Companion" with Garrison Keillor. He began to tour nationally,

taking his eclectic mix of blues, gospel, country, rock, and jazz

to audiences far from his home in southeastern Iowa.

Just how highly regarded is Brown by his peers? "Going

Driftless," a recent Red House Records tribute album — royalties

from which benefit the Breast Cancer Fund — offers proof. Among

those singing Greg Brown songs are Lucinda Williams, Iris DeMent,

Shawn Colvin, Victoria Williams, Gillian Welch, and Mary Chapin Carpenter.

Brown started Red House Records but has been so busy touring and recording

since the late 1980s that he handed off ownership and management of

the label to Bob Feldman of Minneapolis. Since the late 1980s, under

Feldman’s direction, Red House has grown to include a variety of emerging

musicians, including acoustic bluesman Guy Davis, singer-songwriters

Cliff Eberhardt and Garnet Rogers, as well as crusty old road veterans

like Rosalie Sorrels, Eliza Gilkyson, Loudon Wainwright III, and Utah

Phillips.

"In his particular field, he’s pretty much at the top of his game.

Greg has done it his own way. He plays the types of clubs he wants

to play," says Feldman. "He could play much larger venues,

but chooses more intimate clubs. Everything he’s done in the industry

he’s done his own way, and people are still discovering it. He is

very well regarded by his peers in the industry, and those include

some very famous people."

Brown has recorded 16 albums for Red House, dating back to "The

Iowa Waltz" in 1981, the label’s first release. Brown’s most recent

release is "Milk of the Moon" which includes guests T-Bone

Wolk and Karen Savoca. His other critically acclaimed — if not

stellar selling — releases include "Slant 6 Mind" "Covenant,"

"One Night" and "Further In." Songs Brown is known

for are covered on "Going Driftless." Gilkyson sings "Sleeper,"

Williams covers "Lately," Ani DiFranco puts her own spin on

"The Poet Game," Shawn Colvin interprets "Say a Little

Prayer," and Mary Chapin Carpenter puts her stamp on "Spring

and All."

On November 30 those unfamiliar with Brown can expect a wonderfully

funny show that’s also a crash course in American roots. Blues, old

country and songs rooted in traditional folk music, as well as classic

gospel and early rock ‘n’ roll, will all share the bill.

— Richard J. Skelly

Greg Brown, Outta Sights & Sounds, Grace Norton

Rogers School Theater, 382 Stockton Street, Hightstown, 609-259-5764.

The annual Thanksgiving Show features Greg Brown with Garnet Rogers.

$20. Saturday, November 30, 8 p.m.


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