You can’t keep a good musician down. L.D. Brown was an up-and-coming jazz guitarist under the tutelage of Pat Martino when he unexpectedly lost the dexterity in his hands due to a neurological disorder called focal dystonia. Instead of giving up the instrument or music in general, he refashioned himself into an acoustic folk singer with name of Grey Reverend.
It’s impossible to say what kind of jazz player he would have been, but his dark whisper of a voice and muted guitar are a unique and distinctive entry into the crowded folk/singer songwriter world. There are parallels to early Donovan, John Martyn and especially Nick Drake in these hushed yet mesmerizing songs. There are also wonderful surprises in the unconventional, slightly jazzy song structures and arrangements. That’s especially true in “This Way” that begins as strummy folk and takes a turn in the middle of the song where sudden shimmering percussion, keyboards and electric guitar arrive seemingly out of nowhere to push the tune in another direction. A string section underscores the laid back drama of “My Hands” and the bittersweet “Postcard.”
The all ballad program never feels monotonous because Reverend’s wispy yet committed talk/sung vocals compliment this music with beautiful, laconic phrasing and melancholy lyrics that mirror the pensive mood. “When one door closes, another one opens,” goes the cliché and nowhere is that more true than in Gray Reverend’s unusual career turn. His wonderfully contemplative and hypnotically floating tunes unfold with the detailed maturity of a folk musician whose jazz background is never far from the surface.