Folk,  Ick's Pick

Ick’s Pick: Greg Brown’s ‘Freak Flag’

I’ve been completely floored – I mean profoundly impacted – by Greg Brown’s Freak Flag.

From the first notes of “Someday House” to the last delicate notes of “Tenderhearted Child”, the album flows with beauty and wisdom and grace, all delivered in Greg’s low-low-lowdown baritone. He’s always been one of a kind, this folk singing troubadour from southeast Iowa. Now in his early 60’s, he’s managed to take a look at the world around him and write some of the most heartfelt and genuine songs around. Whether it’s singing of love for a woman (“Lovinest One”), love for a child (in the deeply moving album closer, “Tenderhearted Child”), trepidation about where our country is headed (“I Don’t Know Anybody In This Town”, “Mercy Mercy Mercy”), or looking at religion and man’s thirst for something more on the other side (the gorgeous “Let the Mystery Be”)  – he does so with the utmost humor and humility.

There are memorable moments – both musically and lyrically – all over this album; really well written words, shuffles, chord changes, etc. that make me smile, nod my head, and in the case of “Tenderhearted Child”, even tear up. If you’re a dad, and you can listen to these lyrics without misting up, then something’s wrong…

I wish that we could leave you
A world that knows no war
where of all God’s children
would never suffer any harm

May you not give in to bitterness
May your heart stay undefiled
May your love never fail you
Tenderhearted child

Tenderhearted child
I will always be your dad
even when you leave home
call me when you’re sad

Okay, maybe it’s not difficult to tap into the strong emotions a father feels for a child, but this song really digs in deep.

Those deep family bonds are evident in “Freak Flag”, the title track, as well…

Well my dad preached a message of love
I heard him say on the day he passed on above
He said “Use what you got son
to raise a hopeful cry”.

Dad I heard what you had to say
I try to hold to it every day
I’m your boy
I’m gonna let my freak flag fly

The song also touches on coming of age during Vietnam, and love of country (“I’m an American, I’m gonna let my freak flag fly”), and goes on to raise the flag “for every soul gettin beat down” and “for every child who sees the light and turns around”.

All this may seem like some deep, serious stuff. But Greg delivers it all in such a fresh, inspiring roots and folk sound;  great hooks, wonderful melodies, and a sense of humor that brings a smile to your face.

I’m only scratching the surface here. I haven’t even touched on the opening songs, “Someday House” and “Where Are You Going When You’re Gone”, the latter which features one of the catchiest grooves and cadences I’ve heard in sometime. The guitar work is fun, twangy, and funky – right along with the lyrics.

This album is an adventure. I feel like these great songs are coming from someone who’s been around the block – someone who knows; who makes you pause, take notice, and appreciate what’s around you. Greg Brown is some kind of Shaman of the Corn Fields.

Simply put, the songs on Freak Flag make me Happy. I can’t recommend it enough.

Buy Freak Flag on Amazon

Visit Greg Brown’s Official Site.

One Comment

  • Brad

    Just downloaded Freak Flag–I’d have gotten it anyway in time but this review sure hastened the purchase.  Just one comment–he didn’t write Let the Mystery Be. I know you didn’t explicitly say he did, so this isn’t written as a correction.  Just a way of reminding everyone that his freakin’ wife, Iris Dement, wrote it for her first album.  I just saw her in concert a couple of months ago, and her stuff is incredible, too.  Can’t wait ’til they start recording together.  I asked her when that might be after the show, and she just kind of chuckled and said they were thinking about it.  

    Here’s an idea–if you love Greg, do a post on his wife, too.  I love Greg, have most of his catalog, and love her too.


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