A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Nick Hutchings
How is it that each time I get a Greg Brown album, I have got it the year after it was released. It is thus excluded, by most people's rules, from including it in my personal top 10 albums of the year? Oh well, The Poet Game was one of the favourite albums I bought in 1995. Even though this review is being written in 1996, I am confident that The Live One will be on my personal list of favourite albums of 1996.
The Live One, as its name suggests is a live album from Greg Brown. It was recorded in June 1994 at JR's Warehouse in Traverse City, MI. It contains 12 titles, 10 of them self-written, and lasts for nearly 70 minutes. This gives the appearance of a complete performance from beginning to end, unlike some live albums where there are irritating gaps or splices that show where editing has taken place. A minor criticism I have is with the cueing. The start of each track coincides with the beginning of the 'between song banter' rather than at the end, as I would have preferred.
Many of the songs heard here first made an appearance on one of Greg Brown's 11 previous albums. There are two songs making their debut, "Billy From The Hills," a song about his father, and "I Don't Want To Have A Nice Day;" and there are two cover versions. "Moondance," the Van Morrison standard is the last track on the album, and is given a sympathetic treatment, with percussion added by Gary Worden. Richard Thompson's "1952 Vincent Black Lightning" is also covered. I am a huge fan of Richard Thompson's and have heard him perform this song on many occasions. When I first heard that Greg Brown had covered it I was apprehensive, but Greg has produced a good version. He has not tried to imitate Thompson's guitar style. If he had, he would surely have produced an inferior product, Thompson being among the world's finest guitarists. Not that Brown is not a good guitarist...he is. When I first saw Richard Thompson perform this song, I took quite a while to work out that there was only one guitarist! The song is about a very rare motorcycle (produced in Britain when Britain had a successful motorcycle industry), a villain (James) and his woman (Red Molly). Naturally, the villain dies, and gives the Vincent to the girl. Fox Hill in Brown's version of the song has been changed from Box Hill. This is a haunt known to British bikers for a very fast stretch of road south of London where illegal motorcycle races were held on Sunday afternoons.
The main point of a live recording is to act as a showcase for the performance. In The Live One, Greg Brown comes across as more than a good songwriter and talented guitarist; he shines as an all-round entertainer. His stories in between songs are amusing, and obviously draw on personal experience. Unlike many live recordings, I find myself looking forward to much of this dialogue on repeated listenings. Stories about fishing have clearly been part of the repertoire for years. I wish I understood the joke.
The 13 minute version of 'Canned Goods' about Greg's grandmother carries on the best traditions of storytelling. It is right up there with Arlo Guthrie's Alice's Restaurant or Butch Hancock's Split and Slide II. I'm sure I will be listening to this recording throughout 1996 and I will be lining up to see Greg Brown on his next visit.
The Live One by Greg Brown is on Red House Records (RHR78) and is available from all good record shops now.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.