Pop Rocks: A tale of two very talented Mr. Browns

F or the past several years, Noel Brown has been quietly (as quietly as possible in the world of rock bands) making a name for himself as an innovative and intelligent musician. Endlessly imaginative, he has brought a distinctive sense of taste and talent to acts such as the Cubists and the Shaun Piazza Band.


But there is much more to the talented Mr. Brown.

Last week, he screened Guidestones, a short documentary he wrote and directed. A surprising, and surprisingly complex, film, it tells not only the story of the Georgia Guidestones, a contemporary Stonehenge-style monument in Elberton, Ga., but also the people and community touched by the controversial construction.

It's a film that works exceptionally well. Brown understood that while the Guidestones were an important and imposing part of his story, great filmmakers, particularly documentary filmmakers, need to remain flexible. In his case, this meant weaving the story of Wyatt Martin, a fascinating character in his own right, into the narrative.

The result is a film that is as much about the man who carries some the Guidestone's more significant secrets as it is about the stones. It's about the power of secrets and the strength required to keep and eventually divest oneself of them.

Guidestones could have easily treated its subject matter with a much less steady and serious hand. It's easy to mock a mysterious monument engraved with unsolicited precepts for humanity's survival.

But Brown never approaches the story as an easy target. He sees beauty in not only the Guidestones, but also in those affected by it. The result is a movie that is compelling, engaging and full of cinematic surprises. There are plans afoot to screen it again. Check it out if you have a chance. It really is extraordinary.

A FEW YEARS AGO, while still working as a reporter for The Augusta Chronicle , I happened across Young Goodman Brown, an artist who I felt had tremendous potential. His writing was strong and he was a charismatic, if somewhat soft-spoken, performer. I was curious to see how he would develop, what his next set of songs might sound like and what the seasoning that comes with frequent performance might offer him. I saw him a few times after that initial meeting and saw him starting to evolve as an artist. Then, sadly, I kind of lost track of him.

I knew he was still around. I saw his name pop up from time to time on the Sky City calendar and heard that he had been picking up some dates in Atlanta. I just never managed to make my schedule match up with his.

Until this week.

I caught Young Goodman Brown at the inaugural Blocks are Beautiful celebration Saturday. I knew he was good. I expected him to play well, to deliver his songs with that same sense of quiet passion and poise that had impressed me initially. That's what I was prepared for, which means I was completely unprepared.

The songs have not changed. They are still works of high literature written in a folk song format. They still deal with seeking souls, lost love and living life as a grand gamble.

What has changed is Young Goodman Brown himself. Singing solo, he has become an amalgamation of all sorts of American folklore. He's riverboat gambler and medicine show barker, he's a tree stump evangelist and romantic rider of rails. He's all those things not because he fashioned it as part of his act, but because his songs, which deal both abstractly and implicitly with all those things, make it so.

Brown isn't playing as much these days -- filling his calendar mostly with secret shows announced through his Facebook page. But when he does, it's clearly something special, something that transcends the average barroom busker playing for the door.

That's because Young Goodman Brown has become an artist.