Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Sleepsongs: You Might As Well Go To Sleep / Sleeper

Greg Brown: You Might As Well Go To Sleep


Eliza Gilkyson: Sleeper (orig. Greg Brown)


As a chronicler of the human condition, Greg Brown is well-known for a particular emotional depth and wonder-at-the-world attitude which rests heavily on concrete, often wry imagery. He's strong in every life-stage, too, from death to parenthood, from hormone-crazed lust to love's end - and his deep signature growl only frames the journey all the better. Sleeper, which we hear here covered by his contemporary and labelmate Eliza Gilkyson, is a great example, running through a patient sequence of life's moments and metaphors verse by verse and stage by stage fluidly, like the streams and hills of his native rural Iowa.

But although Brown's songs of age increasingly resonate with me, my favorite parts of his songbook are those which take on the lens of parenthood in all its hopeful, aching glory. And where Say A Little Prayer - perhaps my favorite from his songbook - lulls us slowly through a sick child's love lullaby, on You Might As Well Go To Sleep, we get the other side of love: I love you, but it's late, and my job is to get you to let the day go and get some sleep, so let's get moving, already.

Both Say A Little Prayer and You Might As Well Go To Sleep, of course, reveal the father figure as deeply sensitive, caring and gentle, the dad each one of us yearns to be at his best moments. But like Sleeper, the former is pure poetry, while in his kiddie sleepsong, the long, repetitive language culminates in what amounts to a paragraph of highly recognizable too-wired-to-sleep kid language bounced back gently yet firmly from the bedside. That the punchline still doesn't break the tone of lighthearted, slightly exasperated poignancy is just one more piece of evidence for his genius - and one more perfectly articulated facet of the "how to live right" model which Greg Brown provides for us, over and over again.

The moral: though several of us have proselytized about him before, it's time to buy some Greg Brown. The whole catalog is solid, but if you, too, have kids or just know some, Greg Brown's Bathtub Blues, the 1993 kids album which today's track comes from, makes a wonderful addition to the library. And if you, too, love strong female singer-songwriters and coverage, it's worth noting that the Red House collection Going Driftless: An Artist’s Tribute to Greg Brown is on this coverblogger's eternal top ten.

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