Let Me Be Your Love
The years following Bob Brown’s at-times convoluted, seldom rewarding alignment with Richie Havens’ short-lived boutique label Stormy Forest (half of its 12 releases were by Havens) , alongwith several major label dalliances that never came to fruition, proved frustrating. That situation made worse by his considerable strides as a songwriter, being matched to more attuned producers and developing a rewarding partnership with the superb Baltimore vocalist Aleta Greene, who proved both a sympathetic interpreter of Bob’s songs and a sterling duet partner.
The material on “Let Me Be Your Love,” credited to Bob Brown and Aleta Greene, was recorded between 1972 and 1976, mostly with award-winning recording engineer George Massenburg at ITI Studios in Hunt Valley, Maryland and at Hollywood Sound in Los Angeles. Bob’s vocals would benefit from a slight drop in range, and thus timber (the Stormy Forest albums pushed the Neil Young-ish fragile/sensitive angle a bit much), providing some added authority to his vocals.
On all three late-blooming albums, the songs don’t compete with sometimes overly-busy arrangements, allowing the focus to stay on the substance of Bob’s gently poetic lyrics and themes of love and desire discovered, nurtured, lost but never abandoned, mourned, regained and sometimes replenished. That’s the rocky emotional terrain of relationships that has always been Bob’s prime territory for exploration.
“Let Me Be Your Love” is an album of mostly unadorned piano or acoustic guitar underpinning front-and-center vocals, a spare sound halfway between song demos and an “Unplugged” session. Lending a sympathetic ear and steady hand was Massenburg, just beginning to amass an amazing list of engineering and production credits that would include Linda Ronstadt, Little Feat, Billy Joel, James Taylor, Randy Newman, Lyle Lovett and the Dixie Chicks.
Thepiano-led title track emphasizes the fragile ground on which love’s foundations are constructed, with lovely counterpoint between Bob’s soft-spun doubts expressed over four verses and Aleta’s emotion-drenched queries in the chorus: “But would I be too weak or would I be wrong to place my faith in you? Would you let your love lean down on me? Would you ever let me be your love?” Tellingly, they close with voices wrapped together for mutual comfort.
“Child of Light,” with lyrics by Baltimore poet David Franks and supporting Rhodes by Beach Boys keyboardist Michael Meros, is more questing parable than romantic confession, as is the pastoral reflection “Close of Day.”
“Perfect Song” is gut-simple, acoustic guitar lightly strummed as Bob and Aleta consider the limits of mortality and the desire to leave a lasting mark: “Someday I’ll leave this life, fly away into nowhere/ And though I’d be gone I’d leave you this song/ and fade more peacefully.”
Regrets---Bob’s lovers always have a few--are achingly explored in “Close Your Eyes,” in which romantic dreams and passions are surrendered to only to succumb to a seemingly inevitable loss of connection. It’s not about breaking apart, it’s about being broken, apart: “But now that we’ve said all our last words goodbye/ is there something that we left unsaid?/ Should we close our eyes and pretend we never saw love at all?”
“Sliding on the Borderline,” built on a Joni Mitchell-like minor key guitar cushion and melody, proves moody and mysterious, an instance of Bob looking outward, not inward.
“Hard to Say It’s Over,” whose very title points to a recurring theme in Bob’s songwriting, feels like a snippet from an off-Broadway musical, Former lovers ask each other “Why is it so hard to say it’s over/ or admit that love can fail or fade way/ Or admit that feelings change….It’s not so strange at all.”
Also piano-driven is “Woman Child,” with Bob and Aleta’s voices clinging to each other with soulful desperation and Laura Nyro-like intensity: “So sing me a song I’ve never heard before/ some song with a strange melody that will make me dizzy and weak again and again…” They seem to want an ending---“count me out of the game/ I can’t chance the dance anymore/ I can’t remember the score,” before acknowledging the heart’s inevitable surrender: “I stopped looking for love/ but there you go anyway/ taking me by surprise”
“Lies That Are True” is a lovely rumination on the constancy of love while Aleta’s showcase “Be My Baby” muses on the need for, and the possible reward of, second chances, noting the commitment necessary to make love work and the aching challenge of moving on when it doesn’t.
In a similar vein, the haunting “Hiding” investigates that awkward, palpably painful transition between what once was solid and what is no longer tenable. “I know you’ve got another love somewhere/ I can read his letters in your face/ and in the restless way you smile and turn away….”
“If I Had a Dream” has a Billy Joel-ish lilt in its cascading piano, with Bob and Aleta looking back at their original romantic impulse and its inexorable dissolution. “If I had the courage would I be open or foolish/ to surrender my feelings and believe in the pain/ ‘Cause I’ve waited for so long to trust loving someone/ Did it ever seem real or was it all just some dream?”
That’s one of the mysteries that makes love linger throughout this album and its companions. This is the most stripped down of the three compilations and proves a sterling showcase for Bob’s always sensitive exploration of romantic agony and ecstasy.
— Notes by Richard Harrington wrote for the Washington Post from 1980‑2008. His thousands of stories and interviews include pieces on a diversity of artists including U2, the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Jay‑Z, Tim McGraw, Dolly Parton, James Brown, David Bowie, Miles Davis and others.