MUSIC REVIEW | Chastity Brown at The Cedar Cultural Center: A hot bed of gospel, blues, and country

Chastity Brown headlined a “Gravel Road Touring Showcase” at The Cedar on Friday night, April 5 that also featured Actual Wolf and Barbara Jean. All those names, including the touring company’s, gives you a feel for the kind of music: a bit of twang, a bit of folk and some sweet soul.

Barbara Jean is a singer/songwriter who has a voice that can pierce silence or purr quietly. She focuses on a bluegrass-y feel (complete with banjo) but has a soulful depth that works well when she’s doing back-up. Actual Wolf is also a singer/songwriter ala Minnesota’s storied Dylan history. Although he ended his set with a Marty Robbins tune (never a bad thing), the second-to-last song was a too-long, self-composed piece which put him at risk of some beer bottle throwing from my neighbors in the audience (way to hold back, ladies). Too much howling and growling and too many sad, short verses! 

Chastity Brown came on about 10:15 p.m. and immediately took the tour up to a level of energy and sound that commanded attention. The first song, her well-known “I Left Home” got everyone on their feet (with some encouragement from her), and the aforementionined ladies were in the aisles dancing. 

She immediately became a gracious host, explaining that she wanted to tell stories that reflected her upbringing in western Tennessee, a hot bed of gospel, blues, and country. She can really sing it all when she wants to … she amped the twang in her voice for some more country-sounding blues and swung into a low rocking soul for others. She was very kind to her entire band, introducing them more than once (Robert (Bobby) Mulrennan on electric guitar (he’s also a co-writer/collaborator on the newest album), Jef Sundquist on bass/vocals (nice job considering it’s not a stand-up bass he’s picking), Greg Schutte on drums, and James O’Neil stepping in on keys/vocals for Brown’s usual keyboardist deVon Gray who is on tour in South Africa w/ Brother Ali. She also gave props to solos and special showcasing including Barbara Jean on violin and backing vocalist, Erin Stubbs (happy birthday, Erin!); even her graphic artist, Lily Rachles, got a shout out. Nice.

A few songs featured a swinging (but could have been tighter) horn section Brown met at the Current’s Birthday party: Omar Farehim on trumpet, Cole Pulice on tenor sax, and Tony Beaderstadt on trombone.

Brown’s voice can sound downright eerie, too, with a crooning vocal that backs her own guitar playing. Those were maybe my favorite moments, bringing back memories including Joan Armatrading melodies and Odetta’s growl along with Bonnie Raitt’s best “mmmm”s. I didn’t ever “feel” an “all in” moment during Brown’s set, but she knows how to stomp the stage when she needs to! A gospel song near the set’s end was sung at her mom’s request (someone had her mom on a cell phone to listen), and an R&B audience request came next. As mentioned before, she gives a very thoughtful show.

Per her introduction, she’s been playing music for 12 years now. Her latest album is called Back-Road Highways. And, she now has swag for sale … that’s a first for her, so get your t-shirts and accessories now. She’ll be back in the Twin Cities on May 3 and 4 as a guest vocalist for a two-night run at the Dakota for Secret Stash Records’ Soul Revue. Since this trio of performers are connected by their booking agents, it’s also worth reading about the Gravel Road Touring Showcase. It’d be a sweet trio to follow for those in the mood for some summer road-tripping. 

Read Sheila Regan’s review of Chastity Brown at the Icehouse with Liz Schultz’s photos (November 2012). Also read Dwight Hobbe’s review of Chastity Brown’s Back-Road Highways (April 2012).

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