Greg Cornell Brings It Home to Brooklyn
The music of Greg Cornell is essentially folk/roots/Americana, laced with bluegrass, country, Irish music, old timey, old country and blues. Lyrically, “I kind of follow one of Emerson’s rules: the poet begins with nature. Then you can proceed to the individual, and then to the universal, or the divine,” he tells Brooklyn Roads. In other words, he likes to write stories with depth, about things that matter deeply to him.
Cornell moved to Brooklyn from upstate New York 20 years ago to pursue an acting career, but it wasn’t long before “I discovered this amazing acoustic, old timey, bluegrass, folk scene going on, with jams happening, Cajun dances, square dances, and open mikes, in very relaxed settings.” he says.
Country music in Brooklyn? Not all that surprising as Cornell tells us: “Brooklyn is an urban setting, obviously, but it has a strange kind of rural vibe to it as well. You see it in the waterfront in Red Hook, the fields in Prospect Park and in the backyards of restaurants on Smith Street. And there’s a community of musicians who, to a large degree, support, challenge and encourage each other.”
Within this community Cornell “heard a lot of very raw, hair-raising stuff” that influenced his own songwriting. “I wanted to get that haunting emotional quality into my music, and write lyrics about things that touched me deeply. Listening to all that great acoustic music made me realize I could do that,” he says.
Six years ago he assembled the CornelI Brothers – siblings in music, though not blood – because, he says, “I would rather sing with at least one other person, rather than solo.” Hence the abundance of harmonies in the group’s arrangements. His bandmates include fiddle player Adam Moss, percussionist Amanda Homi and bass player Chris Nattrass. Cornell plays guitar and sings lead, with Moss and Homi contributing harmony vocals.
They all came together here in Brooklyn, which Cornell believes has nurtured so many talented musical artists because of it’s a very welcoming place. “You walk down the street in your neighborhood and there are family-owned stores. You get to know your neighbors. You help each other out,” he tells Brooklyn Roads.
Cornell’s musical influences are many and varied, because, growing up in the 70’s, “There was every kind of music on the radio. My first album, when I was 10, was Santana’s first album. I also loved Johnny Cash’s Live At Folsom Prison.” He says he leaned heavily “towards the folkier things, like Crosby Stills & Nash, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell…and yet I loved Led Zeppelin’s Black Dog [and] the Allman Brothers.”
He later discovered his parents’ collection of Nashville country, including George Jones, Loretta Lynn, Tanya Tucker and Waylon Jennings, and in college, “I was introduced to the roots of the music I had been listening to earlier,” he says, naming Doc Watson, Bill Monroe, Hank Williams, Woody Guthrie, Robert Johnson, Howlin’ Wolf and Buddy Guy, among others.
What really opened his eyes – and ears – was when “I heard what The Band and Bob Dylan did with all these roots of American music. I didn’t really like Dylan until I was in college; I had to grow up a little and understand where he had come from musically in order to appreciate him.”
Brooklyn Roads saw the Cornell Brothers at Rockwood Music Hall on October 18th and while not all of the many music influences cited above were apparent, the distilled product we heard coming from that stage – and on the band’s new album, Come on Home – is worth a listen by fans of any of those other artists.