September 2000

Greg Brown - Covenant
Red House RHR CD 148
Released: 2000

by Marc Mickelson

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

[Reviewed on CD]While it's true that love hurts and even stinks, Greg Brown knows the real problem: Love is damned complicated. Covenant, Brown's latest CD, follows three spectacular and very different studio releases for St. Paul, Minnesota-based Red House Records: Slant 6 Mind [RHR 98], Further In [RHR 88], and The Poet Game [RHR 68]. With Covenant, Brown goes in still another direction, crafting a collection of bluesy folk music that explores the joy, challenge and frustration of love in first-person songs that avoid sentimentality -- unless it's called for. It is love, after all, that Brown writes about this time around.

Between the first track, "Cept You & Me Babe," with its declaration of similarities that end up being differences in intensity, and the final song, the hidden track "Marriage Chant," Brown paints complex portraits that level the silly misconceptions often fostered by pop music (and television and movies). "Real Good Friend" describes a relationship that's in a perpetual rut, and thus dead. "Waiting on You"’s title is its subject -- and Brown’s weary response is "one of these days I'm gonna go away from this / without a why, without a cry, without a kiss." "Lullaby" is a paean to passion and closeness: "Oh babe I ain't that sleepy."

Brown probes and creates portraits that will ring true to anyone in love and probably truer, perhaps even painfully so, to someone whose love has gone. Is there advice here? Only to keep putting yourself and your heart out there, ready to bend and break -- which is to say that there are no new answers. Would we really believe otherwise? Brown knows us better than we know ourselves.

The sound of Covenant is splendid, as with Brown's previous three releases, and it's just one more thing to love about this disc.