If you still haven’t discovered Greg Brown, here’s another great way to get acquainted. Dream City, which contains some of his finest recordings from 1997 through 2006, is his second “best of” collection. Like its predecessor—If I Had Known, which covered 1980 through 1996—the package finds the Iowa native championing small pleasures, small towns and a fading way of life—much like Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion, where Brown has been a regular for years.
Based on the evidence here, he hasn’t exactly gone downhill in the decade represented by this volume. His instantly recognizable deep, dark baritone remains a national treasure. And the sharply honed songs on Dream City are arguably as good as any he has written in his long career. Among the best of the best: the brooding “Blue Car”; “Your Town Now,” which reads like a companion piece for Bruce Springsteen’s “My Hometown”; and the fiddle-, accordion- and banjo-spiced “Summer Evening,” which finds Brown lamenting, “Town used to have 12 stores, now we got two/Big boys movin’ in, small farmers movin’ on…”
Like If I Had Known, which came packaged with an excellent bonus DVD documentary on Brown, Dream City features a bonus disc. Its half hour’s worth of previously unreleased material includes three tracks that feature label-mate Peter Ostroushko on fiddle and mandolin (“Gallery,” “Verona” and an alternate version of Brown’s Appalachian-styled “Lull It By”) plus the memorable “Christmas Song,” an improvised, nearly 11-minute track recorded live in concert in 2006. If you already own all the songs on disc one of this “best of,” you’re probably enough of a fan to buy Dream City just for the bonus material. And if you do that, you’re not likely to be disappointed. As for those of you who experience Brown’s music for the first time here, I’ll bet you won’t get far into Dream City before you start wondering how he managed to release more than two dozen albums before you noticed him.