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Greg Brown: Hymns to What Is Left (Sawdust)

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Over nearly 40 years, Greg Brown has released more than 30 albums of folk and country-blues, his nimble guitar playing and rich baritone just one part of the equation. Brown's insightful songwriting is an unending treasure of tales and observations, and on this latest record his pen is calibrated to turn out some of his sharpest songs ever.

At 63, Brown sounds weary, wise, rough and battered—better than ever, really, for the type of songs he writes and sings. With humor, insight and his own particular set of wry observations, Brown sings of life in its ever-steady advance and seems to take great pleasure in writing from the downslope perspective.

"Arkansas" opens the record with a burst of energy, banjo and fiddle leading the way for Brown, who pivots next to a spooky falsetto on "Besham's Bokerie."

On "Bones Bones," he sings about stiff old bones, wondering how he came about his "tiny little future and a great big past." But there's more than a wink when he sings, "We can cry or we can smile/ But it's all just one big compost pile."

"Now That I'm My Grampa" is another take on aging, and in Brown's estimation, getting along better as the years pile on. That long view of life smoothes out the stupid mistakes, cradles the important people and makes the passing of generations a simple statement of communal power.

Hymns to What Is Left is another top-notch example of Brown's songwriting, his singular style that digs universal truths out of one quirky man's life.

Eric Swedlund

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