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Maggie Brown makes peace with her past

By TJ Simon, December 2004

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They were in Nashville for two weeks when tragedy struck. Mom became seriously ill with meningitis, and the descent was rapid. She was in a hospital, in a coma, and dead six days later.Alone in a strange city, Brown quickly knew she was out of her depth without the guidance of her mother. "I had never done anything without her. It felt like a rug had been pulled out from under me," she remembers.

With no money or motherly direction, Brown returned to Louisiana and set music aside for six years. "Sometimes I think I was punishing her by stopping the music because she left me," Brown says. "She didn't give me the tools to be a grown up, but she didn't stick around either."

During this self-imposed musical hiatus, Brown worked to establish a sense of normalcy in a life that had never been normal before. She went to college, got married, had two babies, and left music as a distant memory in her bizarre past.

It wasn't until 1994 that the musical bug bit Brown once again. She broke the news to her not-so-pleased husband that she wanted to start playing gigs.

This change in the way Brown spent her weekend evenings was a major factor in the dissolution of their marriage. "He was a very conservative person, and he didn't like all the attention that my music generated," Brown explains.

And the more that Brown played, the more she wanted to write songs again. Her youth and adolescence spent on the road provided her with no shortage of material to draw upon.

Much of this material found its way onto Brown's long-overdue debut disc released earlier this year. The self-titled album is a fusion of country, blues, rock, and folk that recalls the sounds of Bonnie Raitt, Lucinda Williams and Toni Price.

In describing her diversity of styles, Brown says, "It's a southern-delta-swamp- country mix. It's like a potluck. I really don't know how to describe it. I've written very traditional country songs, and I've written rock songs. I like all of the different kinds of music, but if I had to pick just one, that'd be tough."

She recorded the album just outside Nashville at a studio known as The Beanstalk. The recording facility is owned by Wayne Kirkpatrick, who wrote hits for Eric Clapton, Garth Brooks, Amy Grant and Bonnie Raitt. A Kirkpatrick-penned original number, "Wasted" also made its way onto Brown's disc.

The CD's opening track "Forty Dollars" begins with the lyrics, "Forty dollars worth of Lyle Lovett / Twenty dollars worth of gas / Might not get her back to Texas / But she might outrun the past."

These lyrics come directly from an episode in Brown's life. "I was leaving town to go to Houston after my divorce," she remembers. "I stopped at the record store to pick up two Lyle Lovett CDs for the drive, and the price came to exactly $40. I filled up the tank with gas, and the price came to exactly $20. I chuckled about it and thought that with $40 of Lyle Lovett and $20 of gas, you could go just about anywhere."

The body of water in the song "Black River Blues" serves as a metaphor for the illness that swallowed the psyche of Brown's mother. "I battled my own kind of depression that came from feeling guilty over quitting music and not being able to stick to my decision either way," Brown says. "To me that song is about depression. I was just so happy to be on the other side of it without letting it get to me the way it got to my mom."

Brown currently lives in Natchez, Miss. with her two children and her second husband, a former high school sweetheart named Steve Oliveaux. In high school when Brown's mother was piecing a band together, they recruited young Steve to be the drummer. "Mom bought a drum set, and I showed him the different beats," Brown remembers. "He played with us off and on when he wasn't grounded."

Because of Brown's commitment to her husband and children, she has chosen to limit her touring to a region within a safe distance from home. "With the kids, that seems like a logical thing to do. I'd like to build up a regional following that I can stay on top of and make it last," she says.

The local recognition has been good to Brown thus far - including a recent high-profile opening slot for Gretchen Wilson in Baton Rouge. The album's first single, "Used Cars" is being played with increasing regularity on satellite radio and forward-thinking Americana radio stations who can handle Brown's amalgam of styles.Despite the acclaim thus far, there's little worry of Brown losing sight of the things that really matter.After being raised in what some might see as an unhealthy environment for fostering mental well-being, Brown appears steadfastly dedicated to giving her son and daughter a normal upbringing. Her love for the children shines brightly on the songs "Jacob's Eyes" and "Hush" from her album.

Her children also serve the important function of keeping Brown's feet firmly planted on the ground when dreams of stardom begin to overtake her."With my family, it's a different kind of thing," Brown explains. "It's like Tim McGraw said, 'When you get home, they don't care who you are - they just want their Cheerios.'"

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