Recorded 17 years ago at the since-departed Minneapolis folk haven Coffeehouse Extempore, One Night was first released a year later on that club’s seldom-used, self-named house label. Brown was in the first flush as the toast of the Twin Cities, and his material, intimate delivery, and rambling monologue displayed a confident and crafty artist in a more or less traditional folksinger mode.
Dressed up with beautiful new pen-and-watercolor artwork by Brown, this Red House reissue adds five songs (from the same show) to the long out-of-print LP’s original 11 — all presented with excellent sonic clarity. Few of these tunes have shown up in the live rotation for some time. There are some gems to be found, but the trademark wry, insightful lyrics specific to his hardscrabble, rural Iowa upbringing have yet to emerge at this stage; both the topics and the techniques are far more conventional than the deep-rootedness that would stamp Brown’s subsequent work. The most striking element, in retrospect, is the presence of an accurate and flexible top end to Brown’s vocal range, which he has since largely eschewed in favor of his distinctive, low-end rumble.
Longtime Brown followers will, no doubt, rejoice at the availability of this glimpse of the nascent artist, just as relative newcomers may find its occasional shtick, devotion to folk conventions and more generic subject matter a bit off-putting. In either case, the listener gets not only a fine folk outing, but a benchmark from which to measure the dramatic evolution of Brown’s development as a singer, writer and musician. More than a souvenir, One Night is proof positive that the 17 years since were definitely not spent treading water.