Greg Brown

One Big Town

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On "Who Woulda Thunk It," the leadoff song on his fourth album, In the Dark with You in 1985, Greg Brown gently tweaked the baby-boomer generation for its move from hedonism to consumerism, including himself by writing the song in the first-person plural. On "The Way They Get Themselves Up," the leadoff song of his seventh album, One Big Town, "we" has become "they," and the "they" Brown is singing about are people he holds in considerable contempt for "The way they sell sell sell/The way they buy buy buy." That's just the beginning of an album on which the singer/songwriter expresses his disgust about the state of the world, specifically, with the way small-town life gave way to the mass American consumer culture of the late 20th century. The "One Big Town" of the title song is what has become of Brown's own small community and, he says, of everyone's, and the cause is obvious: "Outside money burnt my hometown." It all leads up to the penultimate song, "America Will Eat You," a portrait of the U.S. as an Orwellian dystopia in which people are helpless to resist and "We're tempting little morsels on the corporation's fork." The album's sub-theme is the singer's own personal dissatisfaction with a life of constant travel that keeps him away from his family, as described in "Back Home Again" and "Lotsa Kindsa Money." By the end, he is pleading to his lover, "Tell Me It's Gonna Be Alright." Brown uses rock & roll arrangements to get across the headlong attack of modern society on his sensibility, rocking out in such songs as "The Way They Get Themselves Up" and "Just Live," with co-producer Bo Ramsey contributing electric guitar solos and Bob Thompson wailing away on saxophone. One Big Town is not a subtle album by any means, but it is an impassioned one, even if you worry that its creator might be ready to quit the music business and retire to some remote farm by the end of it.

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