Greg Brown: between the house and pasture
ASPEN Friday’s show at Belly Up Aspen is unusual for Greg Brown, who is playing with his daughter Pieta Brown for the first time in more a year. During that time, Pieta became a mother, Brown became a grandfather and moved from his longtime home in Kansas City back to Iowa City. These days Brown usually performs weekends only, after a flight from Iowa. He said he still performs 50 to 70 gigs a year, a far cry from the 200-plus gigs a year he used to play. When I started out, I played wherever I could, said Brown. I played bars, I played bowling alleys wherever I could play. Now Im somewhere between the house and pasture. Ive definitely slowed down on the number of gigs. I dont think I would go out and play if I didnt still enjoy it. Greg Browns sound has changed in the more than 30 years since his first album; many of Browns early releases featured a voice that wasnt quite as deep and were somewhat less bluesy. Sometimes listening to his latest songs is like sitting on a stoop with grandpa, as his meandering thoughts walk in an area of darkness and truth and emerge into outright wisdom. The world weve made scares the hell out of me, sings Brown on Eugene, from his latest studio album. Theres still a little bit of heaven in there, and I want to show it due respect. This looks like a good spot up here. You can try me on the cell but most places I want to be, it doesnt work. Sometimes youve got to listen hard to the sounds old Mother Earth still makes all on her own. It was Browns deep, rich voice and rootsy, gritty song-writing that grabbed national attention after only two albums and earned him a regular spot on Garrison Killers Prairie Home Companion in late 1983. Brown had self-released his first two albums, 44 & 66 and The Iowa Waltz, on a label Brown called Red House Records after the old red farmhouse where he was living in Iowa. It was in those three years of the early 80s that Brown set the stage for a career that would achieve folk-hero status and laid the foundations for a now-legendary record company representing some of Americas folk greats. Brown gave up control of Red House Records early on to a fan who was an instructor at a St. Paul high school, Bob Feldman. The two remained close friends, and Red House continued to release Browns roughly two dozen albums up through his 2006 studio release, The Evening Call. But though Brown was instrumental in starting a label, and he put out two fundraiser albums this year of live shows, Brown said he is returning to grassroots recording. I dont think Im going to do any more studio stuff, at least not for a while, Brown said. I have some simple home recording stuff. My plan is to put out home records. Theres really not much point in labels anymore, they dont really do much. Brown has a digital recorder that burns CDs; he said he will generally be recording new material at his home in Iowa City. I just want to do little editions myself, said Brown. Sell them at gigs and put them up for sale on a website. For myself, at this point, I want to try things a different way for my own amusement. Feldman oversaw the recording of Browns 1984 classic album, In the Dark With You, and continued to work with Brown until Feldmans death just before The Evening Call was released last year. Brown wrote a short note in the liner notes that ends, You were strong and quick to help people in trouble. Life is lonely, we can any of us get too lonely. I feel those who loved you gather round. I hear us singing for you. When we gather round, you are there by the fire. So dont be so lonesome now. We hold you in the circle. Hunker down. Lean in. With Feldman gone, Red House Records is still going strong but theres less of a reason for Brown to be part of it. Plus, Brown said he wants to mix up the traditional album and have more room to breathe creatively. CDs traditionally have been 10 songs or 12 songs, he said. I want to mix it up. Spoken word, for sure. I want to fool around with it. I want to put a booklet in with writing. I want to loosen it up. As for what the future holds, Brown is patient. He just lives. During the interview, Brown was sitting on an old couch in a junk store in Iowa City, where he sat down to take the call while looking for a lampshade. I dont know where the music comes from, he said, or where its going. email@example.com
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