Singer-songwriter Pieta Brown‘s One and All on St. Paul’s Red House Records is a fine follow-up to the EP Shimmer, her excellent debut on the label. In fact, remarkably enough, it is an improvement. Shimmer, a seven-song disc, provided a solid showcase for Brown’s bright vocals and well crafted compositions. You get five more this time around and, accordingly, a broader range of moods in her vocals and textures in her material.
It’s hard to recall a folk-influenced lady with Pieta Brown’s potential for crossover to mainstream appeal and national prominence coming along in quite some time. The most recent probably was Melanie, way back in the early ’70’s with “Brand New Key.” And for that matter, Brown has a great deal of consistency in the quality of her work and stands a strong chance to hit on the airwaves much more than she misses. Her capacity to profoundly impact popular music is indeed considerable, and the exposure she gained this year opening for Mark Knopfler on his North American tour certainly didn’t hurt.
Remarkably gifted with both a distinct voice that leans toward the pensive and superior songwriting skills, she shows with One and All that rare ability to put together a full album on which each offering sounds freshly inspired. While they all have her trademark, wistful reflection delivered in brilliant tones, not a single selection comes off as being one of the others simply reworked. Highlights include the fetching, “Other Way Around,” bluesy with a seductive lilt and lyrics like, “If wishes were horses/ I would ride/ Down to the river/ Where the water is wide/ ‘Cause an eye for an eye/ Just leaves blood on the ground/ Someday/ It will be the other way around?” And there’s the hypnotic tribute to blue-collar life in society’s trenches “Grass Upon the Hills.”
The personnel is top-flight, with Brown (acoustic guitar and keys) backed by Bo Ramsey with whom she produced the album (guitars, backup vocals), Jon Penner (bass), J.T. Bates (drums), Steve Hayes (drums), Brian Wilkie (pedal steel), Joey Burns (cello, accordion), and Constie Brown (backup vocals), with Alex Ramsey on keys for “Faller.” This is choice listening fare that anyone who loves good music will thoroughly enjoy. If you happen to be into rich, poetic ballads with folk roots, so much the better.
For the live experience, make it An Evening with Pieta Brown at the Varsity Theater on June 4.