WHO IS HE?
Greg Brown's winding career has earned him a couple of Grammy nominations, but his singular style—earnest, humorous and gorgeously poetic—has never been for the mainstream. A songwriter's songwriter and a musician's musician, Brown was born in the Hacklebarney section of southeastern Iowa to a guitar-playing mother and Pentecostal preacher father.
Brown has significant Tucson connections—he was a longtime friend and tour mate of the late Tucson bluesman Rainer Ptacek (Howe Gelb told the Tucson Citizen in 1996 that Brown was Rainer's favorite songwriter). And his folksinger daughter, Pieta Brown, lived here, forging her own connections with Calexico and others.
The 64-year-old Brown made his first mark in folk music as a University of Iowa freshman, winning a talent contest to play an opening set for singer Eric Andersen. Brown jumped to the Greenwich Village scene next, playing regular gigs at Gerdes Folk City, but it wasn't until he resettled in Iowa that his career began to rise. A gig on A Prairie Home Companion led to national tours. Frequently accompanied by the guitarist Bo Ramsey, Brown is touring solo now, with a series of three shows in Arizona.
BUY THIS ALBUM
Brown's catalog over nearly 40 years is deep and consistent (25 studio albums) but one that showcases him as a performer is a can't-miss pick: One Night: Live 1982. Re-released by Red House Records in 1999, the album features 18 songs in 75 minutes and captures Brown in excellent form, vocally and especially in his intricate guitar picking.
Two retrospectives—If I Had Known—Essential Recordings, 1980-1996; and Dream City: Essential Recordings Vol 2. 1997-2006 —make for excellent introductions.
"In The Dark With You" (1985). One of Brown's best-known songs, the title track from his third album for Red House Records showcases his rich baritone and proves his songwriting has a tender side as well.
"Mose Allison Played Here" (1997). With his trademark wry humor, Brown's talking blues tune describes a nightclub so shitty it's a wonder any musician would perform there. But he's full of pride because the legendary Mose Allison once played the same club.
"Hey Baby Hey" (1996). In this love ballad (perfect for weddings), Brown proposes the simple life, turning old together and tending a garden.
"Canned Goods" (1982). Brown sings of family and farming, the memories of his grandmother's canning vivid and heartfelt, the taste of summer bursting in peaches on the shelf.
"Now That I'm My Grandpa" (2012). One of many songs on Brown's latest that touch on aging, this is an ode to family and generations, and his realization that "life is way less lonely when you're part of everything."