'Songs From the Lost Generation'
The Brown Brothers release debut album

The Brown Brothers, Greg Oldson, Glenn Keefe, Robert Lawrence and Eric Hopper, visit with a Durango relic. This Friday, the band will release its first album at the Abbey Theatre./Courtesy photo

Like lovers in this bursting, small town, musicians often join together and fall apart in recycled variations, new arrangements, and old, familiar chords. The Brown Brothers, who’ve just released their first CD, is a group compiled from some of Durango’s favorite bands: The Lawn Chair Kings, Broke Mountain Bluegrass Band and Stoney Creek Ramblers.

Who can say when it all began? Six years ago Rob Lawrence, who plays table steel guitar and Greg Oldson, crazy poet songwriter, began making music together. Others came and went in the Durango Twister game of musicians until two years ago when Oldson connected with Eric Hopper, who offered his low-tech recording studio in Ticolote, (where the CD was made), and his drumming skills. When Hopper and Lawrence first heard each other play, the feeling was mutual – they both thought: “ I want to play music with that guy.”

Americana folk is what Greg Oldson, songwriter and lead singer for the band, calls the Brown Brothers’ sound, with the love songs, (or “not-so-love” songs, as it may be), leading to a little country.

Sitting at a downtown bar, his trademark blue, low-top Converse sneakers wrapped around the bar stool, Oldson is already into his first beer. Oldson is unpretentious, content with a plastic mug brimming with Folgers and a cold can of Busch despite this town of sophisticated espressos and microbreweries. He has no use for cell phones or combs, straight blonde hair falling in his eyes as he bends to sip on his beer or pluck mournful melodies on his guitar.

It’s a dark album, some would say, of the band’s debut, “Songs From the Lost Generation.”

“Writing music is a way for me to recognize the darkness within, we all have it,” Oldson says. “You can’t hide from your own shadow.” This musical collection of short stories and narratives of American people, places and events touches on the quiet, ordinary suffering of everyday Americans. There’s the homeless speed addict who laments to the bellman of the hotel he sits outside of day after day; the senseless, inexplicable murder of a rich man by one less fortunate; lost loves; and the oft-mentioned American pastime of chasing women and numbing pain with alcohol.

Whether I am fast and flying, juiced and running high/Settled back and bowed down to the worries in my mind/For good or bad there’s always liquor settled on my tongue/And women on the hard track I’m keeping on the run.

“Songs From the Lost Generation” is not a CD of catchy choruses that quickly go stale, but rather one of involved storytelling where, for instance, the band goes on a 12-verse journey into the motivations and experiences of American defector to the Taliban, John Walker Lindh. Oldson’s lyrics are gritty, steeped in simple truths.

Play this game while listening to the CD: Count how many times Oldson says the word “sin,” and even where it’s not uttered, count how often it’s implied. And there are the mysteries 4 that deserve unraveling.

In “Took One for the Old Man,” Oldson sings: Took one for the old man/ (Drinking again)/Blamed him for the deal he left me/Held my hands above my head/And all along I was free.

Who’s the old man, one may wonder. Is it Oldson’s own father? Or perhaps Oldson’s concept of God? Listen on. In the same song, is he not talking about the Holy Trinity when he sings: Looked back for the old man, for the savior and the beggar/Each time they were coming on, I just grabbed on to some other.

This could be the album for the generation whose parents used to make an event out of passing joints and dissecting Bob Dylan lyrics 30 years ago.

And yet, the album is catchy. Don’t be surprised to find lyrics from “The Murder Song” echoing endlessly, and somewhat disturbingly, in your head while you’re hiking alone. While cleaning thick, Colorado dust off surfaces of your home, listen to “Songs From the Lost Generation,” it’s the songs of boozing and hopeless relationships that you’ll most often find yourself happily whistling along to. And as Oldson says, you can’t have the light without the dark; it is the rise out of suffering that brings happiness.

The words are propped up by the bending, twangy sound of Lawrence on the table steel guitar, a relic for which parts can no longer be ordered. In a stroke of fateful luck, the instrument was found in an East Coast dump, and without lessons, Lawrence mastered two of the three guitar necks that still work. The third serves as space for a drink, cigarettes and ashtray. On the drums, Hopper paces a steady backbone to the songs and on the CD, his brothers Matthew and Jeff play upright bass and piano, respectively. Live shows will feature Glenn Keefe on electric bass. Hopper, who has toured professionally, appreciates the communal, non-ego driven vibe of the band. Though the words and melodies have been written by Oldson, each band member writes his own part, and Lawrence says “it all equals one, unified part.”

Oldson plays guitar, banjo and harmonica, and his melodic voice ties up the whole package with just enough calluses and cracks to keep it real.

Despite a compulsion to expose the somber underbelly of our country, Oldson is cheerful, upbeat, and quick to belt out knee-slapping laughter. His CD is dedicated to the two babies that have been born to band members in the past year, who he can’t talk about without grinning and shaking his head. Though he calls some of his (unreleased) love songs corny, he recently spent three days straight in a Pittsburgh hospital, playing guitar and singing to his dying grandmother, who loved the band’s CD.

Oldson’s musical subject is human life, but nature keeps him “on the level.” The first thing he says after marveling at the sun’s persistence at the late hour of 8 p.m., is how he’s eager to get up to the Falls Creek area this spring to check out the wildflowers.

“There’s a distinct microclimate where the desert meets the mountains and there are specific wildflowers that only grow there,” he says as he pushes a slip of blond hair out of excited eyes.

Oldson, who’s lived in Durango for 11 years, knows he could move to a city, where live music is revered the way mountain biking is here. But for now he’s sticking around in this place he loves, where the wild land beckons, the local musicians support each other and he sees the artistic scene growing. In the summer, he works at San Juan Mountain Nursery where he learned to yodel by practicing while driving alone out to jobs in the company truck. His biggest aspiration is to write one good song a month, and put out one good album a year for the rest of his life. Though right now, he says, “the satisfaction of sharing ideas is better than profit.”

Simple and humble, like the well-worn Converses, 32 ounces of Folgers, and a spring pilgrimage to the wildflowers.







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