In The Cool
...and in the cool I would sit down with the old Maybell guitar my father gave me and let the songs in. And there in the cool the daily news and a country's face I hardly recognize would slip away for a while...slip off down some old road back in to the cool.
- Pieta Brown, 2004
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Like an element of nature or a late night dream, Pieta Brown speaks from a place deep inside, choosing her words carefully, relying on subtle precision and poetry to keep her balance. With insight drawn from a childhood spent half in the hills of Iowa (no heat or indoor plumbing) and half entrenched in the Deep South of Birmingham, Alabama, Pieta forms an equilibrium of raw emotion and sophistication, heavy blues and honest country, rudimental rock and a hint of loss.
Equal parts girl and woman, Pieta splits the difference between her selves, and offers a new kind of insight in her songs, simple and profound, loaded with quiet anger, electric joy, a touch of innocence and a window on the world. Brown's visionary songs are like a fabric woven from countless threads...simple and familiar when viewed from a distance, but deeply rich and varied when you get up close enough to notice.
Recorded live at Ardent Studios in Memphis, In the Cool is a collection of deep-grooved songs that are full of meaning and images...some fixed, many open to interpretation. They represent not only her own experiences, but also a very real musical conversation with guitarist/co-producer Bo Ramsey (Greg Brown, Lucinda Williams). When Pieta was 17 she went to see Ramsey play for the first time, and leaning all alone against a barroom wall, she was mesmerized. She remembers thinking matter-of-factly, "Someday I'm gonna play music with that guy." They've been friends ever since, and years later, their connection can be felt tangibly throughout In the Cool, lending the record a quality of home, of words unspoken.
In the Cool is remarkable and real, a truly human catch-in-the-throat, a sequence of personal moments simmering beneath a surface of professional edge, stellar production and exceptional musicianship.
Contributing to this is an all-star lineup including bassist Hutch Hutchinson (Bonnie Raitt), bassist Dave Jacques (John Prine), keyboardist Kevin McKendree(Delbert McClinton, Etta James, Lee Roy Parnell) and drummer Bryan Owings (Buddy & Julie Miller, Shelby Lynne).
But above the surface of all that is Pieta's voice - natural, full of dusky notes and red wine, heavy but clear in its seductive purity. It's a voice altogether her own, without artifice or gimmick. Comparisons have been made to vocalists like Chrissie Hynde and P.J. Harvey, and it's true that they all share a raw quality, a lovely brutality. But Pieta Brown doesn't sound like anyone else.
A perfect match for her lyrics, her voice can pull off cynical and knowing, then turn and forgive or apologize, reveal painful truths, express melancholy or wonder. Unpolished, forthright, hurt or wide-eyed, Pieta's voice can match the nuances and complexities of each of her songs. Against the backdrop of a sonic cool the dynamic range of emotions, stories, visions, vocals and styles holds together on In the Cool like a lifeline.
These songs themselves were born on an old piano when Pieta was eight years old. They were raised by Pieta's preacher's-kid parents, spent years wandering the back roads of America, and then picked up a few tricks on the streets of New York City and in the border towns of Mexico. These songs have rambled, worked straight jobs, suffered through addictions, and lost loves, but in the end these songs are most of all the product of Pieta's own instincts, which are otherworldly.
The opening track, #807, is a haunting song, a time capsule of black-and-white footage, boarded up bars, and classic cars. The song pulls us into late night/early morning city streets, until we are counting the cracks in the pavement, waiting outside a motel.
Fourth of July manages to set a nation's contradictions against the backdrop of young love in the midst of a long hot summer. Chuck Berry on the radio, the pick-up truck windows rolled down, the fireworks by the water...
In the Cool is down home honky-tonk blues with Pieta's slide guitar to shake your hips.
This Old Dress traces the strength and fragility of an American family through the story of a hand-made hand-me-down. Kevin McKendree's piano, Bo Ramsey's Leslie-driven guitar and Iris Dement's backing vocals are standouts.
Ring of Gold is a mesmerizing train-ride through the open countryside. A song of love and loss.
Tears Won't Do Any Good is a stark and world-gone-wrong blues rocker drenched in guitar and B3 riffs.
Precious Game changes the pace of the record, offers a moment of straight-up rock & roll, and could easily be mistaken for a Tom Petty outtake from Damn the Torpedoes.
Still Around is a tribute to some of the great ones - musicians who have been here and gone.
How Many Times reaches back to the heart of the Sun Records days.
Lonesome Songs captures the blending of Pieta's own Midwestern and Southern roots and features Greg Brown on 9 string guitar and Bo Ramsey and Iris Dement on harmonies.
I Don't Want To Come Down is a hypnotic gritty love-and-drugs song.
Far Away, with its powerful vocal performance and beautiful melody, brings us back to the beginning with echoes of #807.