Greg Brown, founder of the influential indie roots label Red House and former musical director for Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion radio program, doesn’t have trouble writing songs. “I write songs pretty much every day. It’s what I do. It might sound cliche but to me, it’s like breathing.”
It’s a good thing Brown is so prolific. After recording an entire album’s worth of material — for the first time with the use of digital recording and Pro Tools — a fateful thunderstorm blew over the site of the studio just after basic tracking had been completed. As a result of a lighting strike, all the material recorded during the sessions was lost. For most artists, losing an entire album recording to the digital abyss would have been a creatively scarring and demoralizing experience. For Greg, it was just an excuse to turn inward once again, and write more songs.
Of the songs that comprise his 24th album Freak Flag, the title track is all that remains of that ill-fated original album. Brown wrote ten new songs for the album, recording it at Memphis, Tennessee’s legendary Ardent Studios with producer, oft-band member and long-time collaborator Bo Ramsey. Ardent has been the scene of game-changing recordings by Big Star, Leon Russell, Led Zeppelin, R.E.M., The Replacements and The White Stripes. The list goes on. This time there were no storms, but creative lightning did strike again, resulting in what many have called Greg’s best album.
Like a jagged stone worked by ocean waves, Brown’s signature rough hewn-yet-velvet-smooth baritone is in fine form on Freak Flag. And inspired by the history of Ardent, he blends it perfectly with slow-burning electric guitar and his own acoustic work. The album also includes a cover of Brown’s wife Iris Dement’s “Let the Mystery Be” and Brown’s daughter Pieta’s song “Remember the Sun.”
Greg Brown is a favorite of many songwriters, and even movie stars. Asked personally by Jeff Bridges to write a song for what turned out to be his Oscar-winning role as Bad Blake in Crazy Heart. Greg wrote the song “Brand New Angel” for Bridges, who recorded the song for the film and the T Bone Burnett- produced Crazy Heart Motion Picture Soundtrack.