Red House 280
Recorded in just four days at Justin Vernon’s (of Bon Iver) April Base studio in Wisconsin, this lovely album has a live feel you can’t get with weeks in a slick studio. Brown’s wispy voice slides through these deftly written songs centering on freedom, longing and other universal themes. Most cuts have a rootsy feel with her banjo and acoustic guitar, but with modern trappings like husband Bo Ramsey’s vibrato-laden electric guitar, Jon Penner’s solid bass, and a laid back beat from drummer JT Bates. “Wondering How” has a feeling of defeat, with the singer wondering how to keep going after a “landslide.” In “Flowers of Love,” there are some beautiful images: “Some are for dresses / Some pinned to a shirt / Moving together / In the wind and the dirt.” The chorus is a sing along that ties it all together nicely. “Ricochet” features a repetitious melody with fragments of a story including “motorcycles on Sunrise” and “desert lullabies.” She sings a duet with Amos Lee in “Do You Know,” his craggy voice a wonderful compliment to her smooth notes. It feels like a classic sixties R&B piece. You’ll swear they borrowed Etta James’s back-up singers. “No Not Me” features a dreamy electric guitar, crisply strummed acoustic guitar, and rolling banjo, as do many of the songs. She does a great job with Mark Knopfler’s “Before Gas and TV,” with her clawhammer banjo and dad Greg Brown on acoustic guitar (her talent is partly in her DNA). “Little Swainson” is a pretty instrumental with an emotional piano, complimentary strings and a sweet pedal steel. There’s an old time feel in the melody of “Letter in Hand,” about the futility of war, sung from the perspective of a woman who receives one of those letters you never want to get. In the end, the widow wonders, “Will we lose what we have won?” In “Back to You” she thinks about going back to someone she left. The disc ends with the pensive “Rise My Only Rose.” Starting with a bare acoustic guitar riff, it builds gradually. Her songwriting is centered on fleeting images, with an emotional content cultivated through arrangement and delivery. If you’re looking for story songs like the kind found in classic folk, it won’t be here. But if you crave an emotional landscape of thoughtful images and well-played modern folk, rest your ears in this release.
— Jamie Anderson