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Greg Brown
In The Hills of California
Live from the Kate Wolf Music Festival

Review By Steven Stone
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CD Number: Red House Records RHR CD 180 


  The best folk musicians by the very nature of their craft must be both great storytellers and superb entertainers. On In The Hills of California Live from the Kate Wolf Music Festival Greg Brown treats us to over 2 1/2 hours of his music and stories. Recorded during the six years that Brown has performed at this festival, the CD mimics the continuity of two complete unabridged on-stage sets.

Greg Brown's relaxed and intimate stage persona comes across as the most striking aspect of this live concert CD. Even in front of an audience of 5000 in a huge open-air venue Brown makes you feel as if he were sitting playing on the living room couch. Although accompanied at times by Nina Gerber or Garnet Rogers on electric lead guitar, Bill Griffin on mandolin, Dave Moore on harmonica, and Karen Savoca on percussion, this album feels primarily like a solo concert. All the accompanists stay very much in the background, allowing Greg lots of breathing space. Longtime fans will enjoy hearing how Brown's live performances differ from his slicker studio versions. Many, such as "The Poet Game," are markedly different.

Considering the recordings were made over a six-year span, their sound has a remarkably consistent level of quality. Recording engineer Dave Ferri along with mastering engineer Ken Lee deserve the credit for this remarkable sonic feat. Most of the songs were mixed live and recorded direct to DAT, which is the recording equivalent of tightrope walking without a net. Proceeds from In The Hills of California Live from the Kate Wolf Music Festival go to the Jungalbandi music and arts education program of the Sebastopol community center located near the late Kate Wolf's home.

If you consider yourself a Greg Brown fan, In The Hills of California Live from the Kate Wolf Music Festival qualifies as a must-have CD. If you've heard of Greg Brown, but aren't familiar with his music, this CD also makes a superb first taste.



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