Pieta Brown – Gather round the Mill
Ramsey co-produced Pieta’s album and is a constant companion both on the road and at home. Having collaborated closely and consistently with the father over the years, he’s now giving key support to the daughter.
It was at first Pieta’s voice, Ramsey says, and then eventually her songs that drew him in. “I was really taken by what I heard,” he says, recalling a tape he got from Pieta a couple years back while in Denver during a tour with Lucinda. “I was moved. I really got excited about it.”
Even in his most agitated moments of conversation, Ramsey’s tone can be hushed, his delivery deliberate. But he says that in response to Pieta’s songs, he was yelling over the phone to her from Denver.
“There’s varying degrees of hearing the song,” he says like a man who’s unloading a deep spiritual revelation. “Some people hear it to the point of seeing it.”
That tape Ramsey heard was Pieta’s second homemade effort, recorded while in Tucson, Arizona. Before re-establishing her roots in Iowa City last July, Pieta had been rambling around the continent for about five years, spending time in New York and Mexico before an extended stay in Tucson.
Her first time onstage was in a Tucson dive bar, playing in a benefit for two immigrant friends who were striving to get their green cards. She performed four of her own songs — and one Bo Ramsey cover.
While in Tucson, Pieta got to know several of that town’s most prominent musicians, including Calexico, Howe Gelb and members of the now-defunct band Come. She played a handful of gigs with a punk rock drummer as backup. She fell in and out of a relationship. “I’ve always not liked ‘the scene’ very much,” she says. “Anytime I sort of start being in one, I kind of leave it.”
Pieta followed her instincts and returned to the Iowa City community she was born into, seeking to spark her musical rebirth. That brought her full circle — back to the Mill.
“I don’t really have any weird feelings about being Greg Brown’s daughter,” Pieta says, as if to put the issue to rest. “Except for some of his intense, weird fans.” She’s had people show up early to her gigs, stare at her from soundcheck to her final song, and then approach to quiz her on what particular personal details they’ve been dying to know for the last decade or more.
But her circle of support stretches beyond her dad and Ramsey. She played some of her first gigs around Iowa with Ramsey’s son Ben on bass, and lately she has taken some informal guitar lessons from Dave Moore, who also plays button accordion on her album. Moore’s stepdaughter has been Pieta’s best friend since childhood.
Greg is wearing a black Trailer Records ballcap atop his closely shaven head when he finally strolls into the Mill. It tops an outfit of camouflage pants and a threadbare plaid shirt. Toward the end of the night, he and Pieta and Zoe and Ramsey and others move to the back room in the Mill, which harbors a weekly acoustic jam session.
The five musicians sit in a circle plucking strings, sipping drinks and taking turns suggesting songs. As they listen, the Browns and friends also play word games, collaborate on poems and catch up on each other’s recent travels.
These are the people, this is the place that Pieta comes from. “Their music is just, like, part of me,” she says of her father, of Ramsey, of Moore and of the rest. “I can’t really separate it from myself.”