I never much cared for Chastity Brown‘s music, until I wandered into a coffee shop a few years ago. She was there singing like I’d never heard her sing before, performing material stronger than anything she’d written before. Her third album High Noon Teeth picks me up right where I left that night, profoundly impressed. In my estimation, her artistry improved a great deal. To her longtime fans, of course, all that improved was my hearing. Either way, I have been converted and am now an unabashed admirer.
High Noon Teeth is a triumph, showcasing Brown as an artist of compelling power and grace. It’s soulful acoustic music in the vein of, say, Richie Havens, Janis Ian, Tracy Chapman. Brown brandishes incandescent originality anchored in gospel, folk, rock ‘n’ roll, and a hint of jazz. Her lyrics are thoughtful, intelligent, reflective, and poetic.
The stark, dramatic “Strong Enough” pays impassioned homage to literary immortals James Baldwin and Zora Neale Hurston, a poignant chorus repeating, “We were strong enough/ to fight them off/ by the ways they just kept comin’/ by the waves we were strong,” before the sardonic verse comes in: “Jimmy said it must have happened/ Someone closer to the dawn/ remembers picking up his jacket/ heading out and gettin’ gone/ Somewhere Z just leaves the office/ swollen eyes and heading home/ they didn’t understand her language/ too much diction in her tone/ ’cause ink was bleeding on the pages/ all she had to do was change/ to thumb out, to play numb.”
Brown frequently draws on brilliant wordplay to paint rich images of troubled lives in her storytelling. “By the Train Tracks” is a perfect simple, captirung simple and inescapable loneliness. “Down by the train tracks on the side of the road/ There a man gone sit there since long time ago/ Down by the train tracks on the side of the road/ There came a woman someone saw her go/ Down by the train tracks on the side of the road/ Said she was on a journey you could tell by her tone/ She was headin somewhere that somewhere wasn’t home/ It was way it was way down/ on the side of the road.” She’s just as effective with a straightforward love song like the haunting “Lose Ya Now.”
Whether you’ve been a longtime listener from her first two albums, Do the Best You Can and Sankofa, or whether High Noon Teeth is your introduction, this album solidly establishes Chastity Brown as an artist of consequence.
Chastity Brown plays First Avenue on September 18, sharing a bill with Jeremy Messersmith and Total Babe.