Pieta Brown stepped out of the Red House last year with a fairly solid outing of Americana/folk music (Shimmer) which turned more than a few heads. I'd read the reviews and knew the name, but hadn't heard the music until it came floating in on the winds with a stack of Red House releases including those by Willie Murphy, Meg Hutchinson and an absolutely outstanding album by Ruth Moody which pretty much knocked my socks off. In fact, I was so taken by Moody's The Garden (here) that I basically put everything else aside while I immersed myself in that album to the detriment of the growing pile of CDs awaiting review. Pieta Brown had to wait, that's all there was to it. I now know that Pieta Brown waits for no one.
Red House had graciously included Shimmer along with the new Brown album One and All and Shimmer hit the CD player first. A handful of listens revealed a musician of haunting quality, the voice pulling otherwise almost common folk songs into another realm. Maybe it is the phrasing or maybe the songwriting or the sparse production, but the music seems to be more than it is, mostly bare guitar with electric guitar and string bass embellishment here and there There is an emotional dichotomy going on on some of the songs, the voice slightly detached but the emotion intact, which I find pleasing. Pieta Brown makes it work. The first three tracks— I Know a Girl, Lovin' You Still, and Hey Joey—easily fit at the top of the coffeehouse/folk type songs. Over You is more laid back, a midnight nap of a song and beautifully performed. Brown goes acoustic rock on El Guero, a song she repeats on One and All, and Diamonds in the Sky is a folk pop gem. Still, they all fall within that Americana realm—good solid folk with pop overtones and a step above the norm, thanks to some excellent lyrics and sense of melody.
When I get to the last track, You're My Lover Now though, I hear something else. It is a smooth, mature song devoid of genre which made me listen harder. Slightly blues, mostly folk and pop, it was a step up from the already superior music I was hearing. The earlier tracks were good, don't get me wrong, but this one was special.
Moving quickly to One and All, I was delighted to find that You're My Lover Now was simple precursor to a full album of the quality of Ruth Moody's The Garden. I mean, You're My Lover Now is beautiful and floating and disarming and everything you could want in a soft, melodic song (the disarming part seems to be a fabric of Brown's voice, which I swear could charm the bark off a tree with the right song), but what I hear on One and All is just, well, disarming. Disarming in that Brown serves up twelve top quality songs which, as far as I'm concerned, place her among the top tier of songwriters today—alongside Ruth Moody, Ellis Paul, Antje Duvekot and Brandi Hart (The Dixie Bee-Liners) and so many others who are complete songwriters and get that melody and harmony and lyrics and arrangement are all necessary to take a song to that top level.
Top level, indeed. One and All starts off with a bang, if a slow tear-stained song of reflection can start out that way, as Brown sings…
Stars, broken like arrows
Shadows, just pictures on windows
That is lyric gold, my friends, and fits so well with the music that it will take you away.
Not a one song wonder, this girl. She follows it up with Other Way Around, which approaches and maybe equals one of my all-time favorite songs of the past decade, Amy Speace's Water Landing. Slightly upbeat, it has the emotional and yet light approach that Speace totally nailed and I can't get it out of my head. Maybe it's the reverb on the electric guitar alongside the wistful voice or maybe it's the vocal phrasing, but this one grabs me. And the album goes on for ten more songs—and I ask, is that a Fender Rhodes on Out of the Blue? Would it be that different if they didn't have that ethereal pedal steel? And toward the end on You Never Did Belong, which I thought was a melodic farewell to a love who departed by sea (for some reason, I always think Ireland, the emigration and the people who were left behind), I hear "I still have your record in a sleeve" and want to know what that means. It all ends with the perfect capper, It Wasn't That, upbeat but toned down with light acoustic guitar and some tasty electric slide (or maybe acoustic with that electric vibe). Sometimes, really good music makes you think. Sometimes, it's just plain good. For me, this is both.
I should know who Bo Ramsey is but my mind fails me at the moment. No matter. I know who he is now and will not forget soon. His guitar, while not necessary to the songs, weave them into a stronger cloth and they are better for it.
I don't like this album, I love it. One and All is cohesive and smooth and everything you want in an album (it is much more than a collection of songs, is what I'm saying) and I heartily suggest you at least put on your sampling clothes for a quick visit to her or Red House's website. Words don't do this music justice. Sometimes, you just have to hear it.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2010, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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