Artist: Pieta Brown
Release Date: 03/10/2017
Bringing in a number of high profile guests can be a bit risky. After four consecutively strong albums, beginning with 2007’s Remembering the Sun, one of the most rewarding things was her shifting of sounds and her interspersing of folk and blues as she evolved. Constants have been Bo Ramsey’s resonating guitar and production as well as Brown’s sensual, intimate vocals. Her songwriting has become more economical and her musicianship has expanded to include banjo, and slide guitar on this effort. And, while I thought that 2014’s banjo-driven Paradise Outlaw signaled yet another change in sound, I initially found that this album has a bit too much sameness to it, despite a different guest for each of the ten tunes. Then I listened again.
Yet the pairing of Pieta’s voice and Ramsey’s guitar is appealing enough, requiring little other adornment. Some musicians such as Mark Knopfler and David Mansfield were aboard last time too. The concept for the album, unlike some guest collaborations, is rather interesting. Brown wrote most of the songs in hotel rooms around the country, sending stripped-down acoustic shells, as one would send postcards, to those she had in mind to record with. Like most of Pieta’s work, you need to delve in deeply to appreciate her song craft. Here she delivers a collection of portraits, some sweet, some rather haunting, as loneliness, longing, and loss play into them. Her breathy vocals seem to stay just a level above what comes across as understated instrumentals. Closer listening, however, reveals intricacy, fluidity, and rather astonishing compatibility with Pieta’s style, especially considering the eclectic cast joining her.
“Collaborating with other musicians and elevating a song beyond its outlines has become one of my favorite things about making music,” says Pieta. “I’m interested in what other people can bring to a song, especially musicians I admire. Music is very magnetic. I have been drawn to and inspired by all the collaborators inside these postcards.”
The album opens with the ethereal backing of Calexico for “In the Light,” followed by Mike Lewis on saxophone and bass for “Rosine”. Mansfield plays mandolin and Weissenborn on “Once Again” while Mason Jennings plays a number of instruments on “How Soon.” Knopfler returns for “Street Tracker,” the album’s lead single. Carrie Rodriguez adds her fiddle and vocal harmonies to “Stopped My Horse.” Pieta delves back into her bluesy side for drummer Chad Cromwell’s accompaniment on “Station Blues” and finds David Lindley’s low tuned acoustic Hawaiian guitar supporting the longing “Take Me Home.” Kindred spirits, pedal steel guitarist Eric Heywood and vocalist Caitlin Canty join for “On Your Way” and family members, The Pines, collaborate on the closer, the album’s longest track, “All the Roads.”
The album is growing on me. As I said previously, the first few listens are often not enough for Pieta Brown. The sound palettes alone sound more evocative with each listen and I never tire of Bo Ramsey’s atmospheric guitar.