Postcards by Pieta Brown
Before even considering the songs, their structure or lyrics, just the sound of this album struck me as some of the most beautiful I'd heard in a long time. Listening to this 7th album from Pieta Brown feels like sitting very still beside a lake at dawn as the mist rises waiting to catch the delicate sound of a rare bird. The call is distant, detached even, but unmistakably clear. Then comes the response. If that analogy works I can see why people like birdwatching.
This collection of delicately crafted songs came largely from writing on the road. From various distant places Brown sent these shells of songs to fellow musicians. They needed filling and nurturing. Please write back she asked her would-be correspondents and reply they did, in the form of accompaniments to the songs. These were musical postcards, hence the album’s title. Inviting guests doesn't always work, getting the balance right is critical. But these were no ordinary guests either; among others Calexico, Mike Lewis, Mason Jennings, Mark Knopfler, Carrie Rodriguez and David Lindley. Brown achieves this every time. These aren't duets but almost form of call and musical response. Each is a blend of Brown's ethereal voice and the respondent's own style that has created an album that even this soon in the year has to be in a top ten of 2017.
A theme that runs throughout is distance, being far from home yet still remaining close to those who matter. It’s hard to pick out a favourite, the whole collection is excellent but my highlights begin with 'Street Tracker' featuring Mark Knopfler. Though Brown opened for him in 2010 the connection went back to her childhood when she claimed to have worn out her cassette tape of Brothers in Arms. Sung in her unhurried, almost hypnotic style, you have to listen hard to make out the sound of Knopfler, but it’s the creation of equals and the blend is of the highest quality.
The pace, never rushed, does pick up slightly on 'Station Blues'. Here the accompaniment is both Chad Cromwell’s drumming and some shimmering blues licks. Both keep the song on track but neither dominates. It shows that Brown doesn't just do the languid reflective stuff but retains her leadership of the composition. This comes out more on ‘Take Me Home’ with its background vocals as well as some heartfelt picking from David Lindley. I’ll go for the final song, ‘All The Roads’ with The Pines as my final selection. Here the atmosphere swirls in layers starting with Brown’s echoing, haunting voice before waves of sound emerge that remind me of a Daniel Lanois production. But this is no imitation, and more than a postcard, it’s a motion picture.
This is a real find, like that rare bird. First sighting will be on release day, 10 March.