Greg Brown's lovely waltz, Early, has the dubious distinction of being largely unknown to popular artists, but popular among unknowns. Go ahead, surf out on the cyber seas in search of treasured covers of the song. You're not going to find any by Elvis or Waylon or Aretha. More like Cathy, or Anne, or Walt.

What's more, the covers that do exist only come in two flavors: folk and bluegrass. We'll sample both, so bring two spoons. The folk recipe was prepared by Brown himself and served up on his first solo recording, a self-released album that dates back to 1980 entitled 44 & 66. (The album was re-released on Red House some years later.) So here's a little bit of—what else?—Early Greg Brown. (Doh!)

Audio Clip: Greg Brown on Early, from 44 & 66, 1980


Another of the easier versions to track down on the web is by Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer, a female duo based for years in my old stomping grounds of Washington DC. They are known as performers of kid's music, political/feminist music, traditional music and, well, good music. As instrumentalists, Cathy is particularly strong on clawhammer banjo and Marcy is a fine guitarist. Lately I hear web-chat associating them with the ukelele tsunami sweeping (not to say swamping) the nation. Be that as it may, if they had to perform stringless they could still knock your grass skirt off with their voices alone. That's Marcy you hear singing lead on this next clip and probably her playing the short, tasteful solo that kicks things off. We're doing it in the same key as they do, E, so try singing along.

Audio Clip: Cathy & Marcy chiming in on Early.


Our bluegrass recipe is cooked up by a hot brother duo, the Gibson Brothers. In 2011, Eric and Leigh took home both the IBMA Vocal Group and Album of the Year awards, but this cut dates back to their 2008 release, Spread Your Wings. I've selected a clip that features both a dobro and guitar solo on a single chorus. Three things I'd like to draw your attention to: (1) Notice that neither solo is particularly flashy, but both are effective. (2) Notice also that they solo over the chorus, as we do. This section is indistinguishable from the verse except for the additional measures at the end signaled by the walkdown from the IV chord to I (in our case, from G down to D.) And (3) notice the absence of that walkdown when the sung verse leads into the chorus. In a jam setting, you may need to be able to distinguish the full vocal form (verse-chorus) from the chorus-only form we're using to solo over. Here's your chance!

Audio Clip: the Gibson Brothers perform Early, 2008