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If I Had Known - Essential Recordings, 1980-1996

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Album Review

Disc one of this two-disc retrospective offers a terrific introduction to Greg Brown's distinctive brand of folk, but it's not likely to excite listeners who are already well-acquainted with the singer. Though the 17 tracks were well-chosen and have been nicely remastered, all have been previously released. Moreover, Brown has always been album-oriented and extraordinarily consistent in quality, so while the songs here hit most of the highest points on the nine albums from which they're culled, Brown released well over 100 songs on 13 albums during the period covered, and nearly all of those tunes are worth hearing. If you're a fan, you probably already have many of the original CDs — and you know why this disc eschews post-1996 releases as well as rarities: with so many essentials to cover, the compilers simply ran out of space. Of course, another audio CD would have been a possibility, but the folks who put this together had a better idea for a second disc: a 46-minute limited-edition DVD. Containing a 1993 documentary on Brown and his music, it features concert performances of some of the tracks on the first disc, including "Downtown," "If I Had Known," "Our Little Town," and "Laughing River"; interviews with Brown, both his parents, Garrison Keillor, and others; jam sessions; and striking glimpses of Brown's southern Iowa home turf. The film should be of great interest to longtime fans and newcomers alike; indeed, it's enough to justify buying this package, even if you already own most or all of the songs on disc one.


Born: 1949 in Fairfield, IA

Genre: Singer/Songwriter

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Critic Josh Kun once described singer and songwriter Greg Brown as "a Midwestern existentialist hobo with a quick-draw mouth, a bloodied heart, and bourbon on his breath." One of the leading contemporary folk artists of the American Midwest, Brown's music reflects a poetic spirit while also sounding thoroughly down to Earth; his deep, craggy voice expresses quirky humor and the mysteries of life and love with equal skill, and over the course of a career that's spanned more than five decades, he's...
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If I Had Known - Essential Recordings, 1980-1996, Greg Brown
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