Nature Boy

It's not often that a musician inspires fans to drastic measures. Case in point: Greg Brown had trimmed his tour schedule a few years back and hadn't played Texas since. With no gigs in sight, his legions in Austin took matters into their own hands: They formed the Society to Bring Greg Brown Back to Texas and sent a petition to his agent, threatening to whine incessantly until the artist agreed to return.

Though still partial to venues closer to mountains and trout streams, Brown couldn't resist a good extortion scheme, so he'll make a few quick stops in the Lone Star State before retrenching again. A singer/songwriter whose finger is firmly fixed on America's pulse, he'll probably use the opportunity to turn the Texas experience into a few discs' worth of incisive odes. That's no exaggeration, because Brown can churn them out. His latest release, Slant 6 Mind, is his 13th in 14 years, and all of them exemplify an extraordinary level of artistry. (Trying to find a bad song on a Greg Brown album is an exercise in self-abuse.) Even more remarkably, he discards as many tunes as he enshrines in the studio. An exacting craftsman, he'll fiddle with a song for months until it's just the right tempo, just the right lyrical mix. If it doesn't take shape to his satisfaction, he'll ditch it rather than settle for any internal discomfort.

Rooted in the rich soil of his native Iowa and built on a sturdy bed of gospel, blues, folk and rock, Brown's music reaches deep into the body of the American experience and pulls out the internal organs. Many of his songs mix ideas that seem incompatible but somehow blend into a satisfying potion: innocence lost with true romance, global insanity with hearth and home. Using simple images and metaphors as rapiers, and with only a few deft strokes, he rips open the underbelly of a culture run amuck.

A big man with meat-loaf hands, Brown plays guitar with a surprisingly agile touch, whether nimbly finger-picking through a soft ballad or hard-strumming a vicious acoustic rocker. To deliver his collective wit and wisdom, he employs one of the more distinctive voices in the business, deep and rough-hewn like a solid-oak beam. It's a dramatic and effective combination.

-- Bob Burtman

Greg Brown performs Friday, September 18, at Hammon Hall, Rice University. Showtime is 8 p.m. Tickets are $15. For info, call 629-3700.

Ohio Players -- A Caucasian colleague of mine recently scoffed at the idea of playing up the Ohio Players' Houston show. But hey, if faded '70s rock relics like Grand Funk Railroad can snare some ink by bringing their tired old asses to town, why not cut the Players a little slack? After all, with such hits as "Love Rollercoaster," "Skin Tight" and "Fire," to name a few, they did set the tone for commercial funk's lusty coming-out. And who can forget those shrewdly sexy Richard Fegley album-cover shots? -- Honey, in particular: You know, the one with the picture of the well-endowed model pouring a heaping spoonful of the sweet stuff into her mouth and down her neck and upper torso, its flow forming a sticky, glowing glaze over her pert, supple.... Um, I think I need a bib. On Friday, September 18, at Aerial Theater at Bayou Place, 520 Texas. Showtime 8 p.m. Tickets $22.50 and $25. Smooth opens. 629-3700. (Craig D. Lindsey)

Lynne Arriale -- Since winning the 1993 International Great American Jazz Piano Competition, Lynne Arriale has grown from a fairly typical piano ace inspired by the usual suspects (Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner) into a uniquely individual stylist. There's an impressionistic touch to Arriale's playing (that Bill Evans influence simply won't go away), and she's been known to add new twists to the same old standards, be it through tempo changes or reharmonizing. Though somewhat overshadowed by contemporaries Stephen Scott, Benny Green and Renee Rosnes, Arriale is nonetheless one of bop's better young tinklers. On Thursday, September 17, at the Westchester Theatre, Houston Community College, 901 Yorkchester. Showtime 7:30 p.m. Tickets $8. 718-5620. Also performing Friday and Saturday, September 18 and 19, at Cezanne, 4100 Montrose. Showtime 9 p.m. Tickets $12. 522-9621. (Paul J. MacArthur)


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