Greg Brown

Hymns to What Is Left

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For those uninitiated into the earthy, rootsy world of Grammy-nominated modern folkie Greg Brown and his deep, warbling (think Tom Waits but less gruff) voice, Hymns to What Is Left is a good primer on the way he blends heartfelt tenderness (the sweetly reflective, offbeat love songs "Now That I'm My Grandpa," "Brand New Angel," and "I Could Just Cry") with playful and humorous romps (the joyous opening rambler "Arkansas" and a swampy, all-too self-aware "Fatboy Blues"). Though his voice veers from charmingly low to growling and mumbling -- his typical stylistic approach -- one of the most intriguing tunes, "Besham's Bokerie," uses an odd falsetto against a brooding ambience. Supposedly, the haunting piece came to Brown in a dream, so one can forgive the oddness -- but as the second track, it might throw listeners for a loop after they've warmed to his unique baritone on "Arkansas." This odd but somehow compelling (and even magical in spots) book of "Hymns" extends the singer's established relationship with longtime collaborator/producer Bo Ramsey, who works with everything from banjo, fiddle, and mandolin to button accordion to create the sparse down-home ambience behind Brown's unusual vocals.

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