Veteran folk-influenced singer-songwriter Pieta Brown has enjoyed a sure and steady ascent to stardom that kicked into strong gear with Shimmer EP (Red House Records, 2009), a North American tour supporting Mark Knopfler and her seventh album One and All (Red House Records, 2010). She’s out on the road right now, pushing her newest, Mercury and, despite it not being the best of her recent stuff, her rise is in no danger of stalling.
Shimmer EP and One and All showcased Brown’s intriguing vocals to fine effect and, most importantly, from performance to performance, both recordings were remarkably consistent. The same can’t be said for Mercury. Not that the album tanks, it simply doesn’t hold together all the way through and has a more misses than hits. “Be With You” starts out spiritedly enough with a jaunty bluegrass feel to it but goes south as Brown opens her mouth with a whine that comes across as being coyly self-impressed and never gains much substance at all. It’s followed, though, by “Butterfly Blues”—a haunting, poignant piece of pure aural seduction that rocks to a sinewy beat and brandishes a lightly sung but nonetheless solid vocal. “Mercury” is pedestrian fare – listless melody, pretentious lyrics and, for good measure, is over-produced with much more attention paid to gimmicky sound effects on the guitars than just plain putting the song across. And Brown goes back to cutesy-cute whining. “How Much of My Love”—just the opposite in every way—is superb. The melody’s pretty. The lyrics are down to earth. The vocal is straightforward and the instruments sensibly recorded, giving the material a chance to speak for itself, which it admirably does. The album goes like that, up and down with the strong points being really strong and the weak parts lagging lame, particularly “I’m Gone”—a watered down attempt at kicking a little country rock.
It takes considerably more than one misstep, especially with the success Pieta Brown has seen, for someone with her momentum to stumble, let alone cause a fall. So, even with Mercury, she remains in great shape and has plenty of time and opportunity to regain consistency. One thing about this outing, just like on her last two, the sidemen are all quite capable. Playing with Pieta Brown (acoustic guitar, vocals) are her husband Bo Ramsey (electric guitar, backup vocals), Richard Bennett (guitar, bouzouki), Glenn Worf (bass), Chad Cromwell (drums), David Mansfield (strings), and Knopfler sitting in on guitar for the honky-tonkish “So Many Miles,” not one of the winning cuts. It’s produced by Brown and Ramsey.
Photo courtesy Pieta Brown