Grey Reverend is the musical project of L.D. Brown, a singer-songwriter with a strong jazz background. He began playing saxophone at the age of 9 and when he was 22 he studied jazz guitar under the tutelage of the great Pat Martino. His aspirations to master the complex intricacies of the genre were thwarted by focal dystonia, a neurological disorder that affects fine motor skills. Determined not to give up music altogether, Brown focused his attention toward acoustic guitar and his voice, and has just released his second album under the Grey Reverend moniker, A Hero’s Lie.
That background is interesting because listening to the music doesn’t leave the impression that this is a musician who’s enfeebled, or who’s settling for something less than his original dream. Though his compositions are sparse and relaxed, his voice sad and weary, that’s a given for the genre, and he’s certainly as capable as any of his peers.
Some of the songs are so minimalist and reticent that they’re like a tree stripped bare so that you can see right through. While most of the album is simply a man and his guitar he does use sparing ornamentation of keys and other sounds, like dim lights hanging from that tree.
One of the few collaborations comes from the late Austin Peralta, a pianist from Brown’s jazz days. Peralta died tragically at the age of 22 last year, and his playing literally haunts the track “The Payoff,” one of the album’s more contemplative pieces.
I think sad music is the most useful when there’s cracks in it revealing hope, like sunlight, and Grey Reverend allows that light in. Had he not been diagnosed with focal dystonia, and not been forced to re-evaluate what music from him would sound like, he may well have become a great jazz-guitarist. However this album’s absence would be a considerable loss in that alternate reality. It’s tempting to consider the notion of destiny here and as the album closes with a song titled “Fate” one has to wonder if that’s exactly where Grey Reverend wanted to take you.
A Hero's Lie is out now on Motion Audio.