Precious Bryant – The blues tells the truth
The magical hour of 3 in the afternoon has rolled around, and now Precious Bryant is ready to do an interview, since she’s finished watching her soap operas, at least until 4 o’clock when “General Hospital” comes on. That she’s talking at all is a small miracle, her publicist says. She’s been known to evade journalists.
Bryant is a human time capsule, bearing musical treasures stored up during 63 years of life in rural Georgia. She has waited until relatively late in her life to give old-time blues fans a full-length taste of her material. Folklorist George Mitchell “unearthed” Bryant in 1969, and finally persuaded her to play the 1983 Chattahoochee Folk Festival, her first truly public show — to strangers, anyhow.
“Well, to tell you the truth, I didn’t know how it was going to turn out,” explains Bryant. “The first time I played, I was a little scared. But after I started playing and people started being on my side and clapping and things like that, from then on every time I go somewhere I make the people happy, make ’em laugh.”
A couple of her standards were included on blues compilations, but Amos Harvey was the first to get her to record an album’s worth on 2002’s Fool Me Good. By then, she’d passed what most people would consider her prime for launching a recording career, but Bryant was ready to take the plunge.
The record garnered much critical praise and earned her the 2003 AFIM Indie Award for Best Acoustic Blues Record, two W.C. Handy nominations, and Best Acoustic Blues Record of 2002 from Paris’ Academie du Jazz, as well as sweeping five categories of Living Blues magazine’s awards. Having warmed up to the idea of recording, Bryant agreed to do it again, and Terminus Records released her second Harvey-produced effort, The Truth, on February 1.
Bryant’s lifelong love of music was born out of the rich musical environment that surrounded her growing up in Talbot County, Georgia.
“It was fun for me,” she says. “I loved it. Me and my sisters, we used to have a singing group, and my daddy, my uncle, my mother…I’m just from a musical family. Everybody in the family did something.”
Bryant’s father and her uncle, George Henry, both played guitar; the latter furnished her theme song, “Precious Bryant Staggerin’ Blues”. She heard him playing it, and decided to change the words and adopt it as her own. Her mother played piano and sang church songs, and she and her sisters had a gospel group called the Bussey Sisters. Many of her male cousins played in the Georgia Fife And Drum Group. She also drew inspiration from blues, rock, R&B and country on the radio.
Bryant relished the chance to involve her son, Tony Bryant, on her new record. He handles bass, with J.D. Mark and Jake Fussell rounding out the raw, loose band on drums and guitar. The result is a rollicking excursion through the roots-blues landscape, sometimes diving into danceable juke-joint territory, sometimes offering up traditional hand-clapping spirituals, sometimes returning to the tried-and-true formula of Bryant and her guitar alone.
She is a skilled blues picker, having imitated the playing of her father and uncle before she was big enough to hold the family guitar. Bryant’s voice is brittle and worn, as if she’s seen the good old days pass, and with them, many of those who filled her young life with music — which she has — but her singing still brims with spirit and warmth.
The title track of The Truth is a simple, pretty acoustic song; Bryant says she lost the lyrics and had to rewrite them more than once. She sings about not tolerating anything short of honesty from her man. Another standout track and her favorite on the record is “Dark Angel”, a romping two-step; the might seem to suggest apocalyptic subject matter, but in reality it’s an ode to Fox’s television series of the same name.
“It’s about that show with Jessica Alba,” she reveals. “Mmhmm, she can fight. I loved that show and I hated it when it went off the air. I told my sister, ‘I’m gonna write a song about that,’ and a friend of mine told me to write a song about it. So I wound up writing it, and I feel like it might just make a hit for me.”
It’s impossible for listeners to take Bryant and her music at anything other than face value. She’s played music on her own terms all her life, and is content to let others to do the tedious decision-making now — as long as they don’t cramp her style.
“I wouldn’t have done it just to make a living,” says Bryant. “I just done it ’cause I like playing music.”