My Lost Record of the Week: Remember the Sun, Pieta Brown
I really like Jason Schneider’s latest blog series: he’s going back to the earliest recordings he owns and researching not only the recording itself, but the context in which it was made, for the purpose of possibly creating a new take on 20th century popular music history.
I’m not quite so brave, but I was looking for a the other day CD and I noticed a Buck Owens CD still in its wrapper. I have so many that I just bought to add to my catalogue or because they were cheap that have never received a proper listen. So I’m going to try to write a review every week (or two weeks) of a ‘lost’ record in my collection.
I’m actually going to start not with Buck Owens, but Pieta Brown, because I believe I should do this project properly and immerse myself in the recording for at least a week. So, Brown was on my mp3 player and Owens hadn’t been copied over to it yet. I started listening to Brown on Monday morning and continued every time I had the headphones on, with the exception of my workouts (I tried, but some of it was a little slow for that). I had just bought Remember the Sun after discovering her on the duet, “Slowness,” that she did with Calexico’s Joey Burns on Carried to Dust.
The album opens on a mellow note. “Innocent Blue” consists of short verses, each repeating the same melody over a fuzzy Wurlitzer and sultry guitar fills. Brown’s voice is relaxed and quiet. This doesn’t last long, as the next song, “Rollin’ Down the Track,” launches into a rollicking country groove. I was surprised at how much Brown’s voice sounded like Dolly Parton in this tune; she’s got the same flourishy hiccups at the ends of her phrases and she pinches her vowels in a similar manner, which cuts a normally resonant word short and adds a sweetness to her delivery.
Brown picks up the pace for tracks like “Sonic Boom” and “Not Scared,” employing distorted guitars and driving bass/drum rhythms. I don’t like these as much, even though her voice can match the band effortlessly and it’s filled out with a nice chorus of backing harmonies. For me, her more country- and folk-derived songs just seem to fit both her songwriting and the abilities of her band members better.
Some of these more appealing tracks include “In My Mind I Was Talking to Loretta,” where Brown documents the elements of female life that are now normalized, but which were controversial when Loretta Lynn was singing about them: “Divorce and pills are commonplace/Computers are running the human race/And walking is just a waste of time.” This tune, augmented by fiddle fills and twangy guitar slides, follows the country tradition of paying homage to your predecessors in song. Another good track on the roots side is the rolling “Hey Run,” perfect for a road trip on an open highway, where she presents a universally applicable message of reassurance against external pressure.
Brown favours compound meters; 6/8 in particular is used on Remember the Sun frequently, which is a welcome contrast to the usual basic 4/4 common to pop music. It also adds a nice layer of rhythmic complexity to already rich songs. On “West Monroe,” a narrative describing the collective desire for escape in a bleak rural existence, a small metronome-like click establishes the triple feel in the introduction, and Brown meets it nicely with repetitions of “Let’s go baby, go baby” that emphasize the waltzy rhythm (see a video of “West Monroe” below).
Remember the Sun is from 2007, but has just been re-released in the U.S. Brown is currently signed to Red House Records, as is her father, Greg Brown. It seems to be a critically-acclaimed album, and I must say I agree. Her sharp songwriting, diversity of styles, and interesting voice make it a record that can withstand many repetitions.