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Pieta Brown

Freeway – 2019 (Righteous Babe)

Reviewed by Brian Baker

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CDs by Pieta Brown

Since her eponymous debut album in 2002, Pieta Brown has embraced and transcended the potentially daunting fact that her father and stepmother are iconic singer/songwriters Greg Brown and Iris DeMent, finding a way to craft her own musical identity without catering to industry or fan expectations and yet still build on the folk foundation of her birthright. Brown's work to this point has been marked by her hushed, almost whispered vocals over a jazzy/bluesy Americana/folk soundtrack, but her latest album, "Freeway," casts her in an amazing new light.

On "Freeway," Brown was steered by what has nebulously been described as personal and professional shifts, as well as her recent experience acting in and providing music for a French film production. With Brown's film work inspiring a certain cinematic approach in her songwriting, "Freeway" was also influenced by the natural setting of Bon Iver frontman Justin Vernon's April Base studio, resulting in the album's open and expansive sound.

"Freeway" is also a departure for Brown in its physical creation. Working with musicians she'd never met, including Bon Iver drummer S. Carey, who also produced "Freeway," Brown played the songs for the band, they collaborated on the arrangements and cut the album in an impossibly short three days. The resulting album sublimates Brown's natural folk tendencies while illuminating her pop side with reverbed washes and forcefully ambient accompaniment, not dissimilar to Carey's gorgeous 2018 solo set, "Hundred Acres."

Lyrically, "Freeway" is Brown's potent reverie on love, loss, despair, anguish, sad endings and tentatively joyful beginnings, both in personal close-ups and wide angle vistavision. The opening lines from "Ask For More" are scenes from a relationship; "I don't want what you can't give/I won't tell you how to live/I'm just not that kind/Or something like that plus you really blow my mind." The film score atmosphere of "Only Flying" is heightened by Brown's folk storytelling acumen, while the title track buzzes and lopes like the best of Edie Brickell and Miranda Lee Richards, and "The Hard Way" delivers its message of hard-won lessons with a sweet guitar ministrations from Mark Knopfler.

Two or three listens to "Freeway" seem to indicate that Pieta Brown may be in a transitional phase in her life and her career, and this is the first step down a new and adventurous path.