A review written for Folk and Acoustic Music Exchange
By Shawn Linderman
The dark, dangerous angst of Greg Brown's previous studio CD, THE POET GAME, has apparently been tempered over the last year. Greg's new CD, FURTHER IN, is lighter and less threatening. This is reflected in its cover art--a bright watercolor by Brown himself, entitled "Couple." Even so, there is still plenty of the emotional punch for which Brown is noted.
In the opening track, "Small Dark Movie," Brown portrays our lives as film: the plots are already known, complete with petty human foibles of lust and love. The reels cycle on endlessly--loops of sad, trivial existences. Kelly Joe Phelps' lap slide guitar creates a haunting, forlorn pattern on the soft rhythmic fabric of Brown's guitar.
There is considerable pain behind the next track, "Think About You." Greg conjures up memories of lovemaking with someone no longer in his life. The vividness with which he creates the sights, sounds and smells of those episodes underscores the intense longing. The music contributes to the mood, with his lilting guitar backed by a throbbing upright bass.
"Two Little Feet" presents the first bit of whimsy on this CD. Marveling at those little critters at the end of our legs and all they do for us, Brown extends the analogy to how repeated efforts can achieve larger goals. This tune features upbeat guitar strumming, tinkling slide guitar and closing backing vocals evocative of those found on Paul Simon's "Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes."
Very rarely, someone so affects you that your very happiness depends on that other person's existence. There are no words to express the breadth of their importance to you. All you can say is "Hey Baby Hey." Greg speaks volumes with those words here.
I think Greg was simply tickled with the sound of the refrain on the next track--he repeats them a LOT! Entitled "China," he gleefully chants "China, chine me, far away." I don't know what "chine me" means, or whether I really duplicated the words (as no lyrics were provided) but the silly humor is unmistakable. This song spotlights Brown's fine fingerpicking guitar work.
The slow, haunting chorus of "Where is Maria?" clashes with the quicker tempo'd verses, capturing your attention. The verses range from global issues ("There's a dirty rain falling, like the tears of shame") to personal revelations ("There's a stranger's body with an old friend's face..."). "Where Is Maria?" is a microcosmic showcase of Greg Brown's talented career, full of his trademarked skill at portraying the everyday and the "One day...(hopeful sigh)." This one is a priceless gem--it makes FURTHER IN Brown's best work to date.
The title of the next tune leaves no doubt as to Greg's humorous intentions: "If You Don't Get It at Home" ("you're gonna go lookin'..."). But it has a Brownian twist that leaves the listener saying, "Whoa, what was that?!?"
"You Can Always Come to Me" is a straightforward promise of unconditional friendship. A simple, elegant and pretty song. Kate MacKenzie (who also has a CD on Red House Records entitled LET THEM TALK) adds lovely vocal support.
Greg turns to a somber, bluesy style in "Someday When We're Both Alone." An effective treatment of the old theme of looking back on your life to see if you've really gone anywhere or accomplished anything of note.
"Not High" is several different things. Early on, it says an average day is a good day...or at least not a bad day:
"I'm not high, I'm not too lowly,
I try to get by on wine and poetry
Music from the good places.
Go lightly, don't leave any traces
On to the next place so quickly"
But later, it takes a darker (Brown-er?) turn:
"The days go by just like they know me
They know just how to get my goat
They kiss me hard and then grab me by the throat
Then they sail away in a little boat, westerly"
A nice tune, but difficult to categorize. The early message is more strongly supported by the upbeat instrumental work.
The title track is an ode to grandparents, friends, lovers; everyone who has helped you better understand and appreciate life and with whose assistance you have been able to go "further in." Greg does some nice skirting with yodels on some refrains here.
"If I Ever Do See You Again," the closing track, is a solid, strong blues number. Mr. Brown reminisces about lovers--the child they never had and the dreams they never achieved.
I've read several reviews of THE POET GAME and their common message was that Greg Brown had achieved the grand opus of his life. Sorry to contradict so many critics/fans, but FURTHER IN is an order of magnitude more powerful, more perceptive, more moving. With an awe-filled tip of the hat, I salute him on this wonderful accomplishment.
[Edited by Rona Edwards]
Copyright 1996, Three Rivers Folklife Society.
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