Bronwynne Brent. Undercover

b3aw1sizxh0cmfjdciseyjszwz0ijowlcj0b3aiojasindpzhroijoxndgylcjozwlnahqioje0odj9xsxbinjlc2l6zsismtawmf0swyjtyxgixsxbindlil1dIt’s been some time since Bronwynne Brent released Stardust, an album which achieved near universal acclaim. Backed up by some impressive live shows in the UK, Brent came across as an up to date Karen Dalton, a folkie with a jazz inflection to her voice, and on Undercover, she travels a little further along this route.

Undercover is not as beguiling as its predecessor, it’s a more straightforward album in style and there seems to be less despair as Brent’s vocals dance happily over some pretty upbeat songs. Dig a little deeper however and she’s still singing of broken hearts. That said, the songs are enlivened with an inventive array of keyboards, ranging from the 1960’s Farfisa like parps on the title song to the whirling organ on Someone That I Loved. The band altogether are excellent. They create a fine and funky blend of folk and soul on Walking Relapse, which comes across as if Pentangle were backed up by Billy Preston and a horn section, and then sailing into neon slicked honky tonk groovyness on Brent’s cover of Chuck Willis’ Whatcha Gonna Do When Your Baby Leaves You with Brent digging into Peggy Lee territory. Lost In The Moonlight meanwhile is a slinky late night torch song.

Brent’s folkier side predominates on several songs. Raincoat is the first of these and, as with some songs on her last album, it’s reminiscent of Melanie’s deeper thoughts while Brent uses it as a vehicle for some inventive vocal interludes. Empty Pot Of Gold, emboldened with a tremendously sympathetic band and string arrangement is hauntingly beautiful and River Lullaby, again with a magnificent backing, is simply gorgeous.

Bronwynne Brent is currently touring the UK, all dates here.

Bronwynne Brent Celtic Connections, Tron Theatre, Glasgow. January 31

OK, a bit late on this but for some reason this review wasn’t published when submitted originally. Given that it was Bronwynne’s UK debut and that Blabber’n’Smoke really dug her album I thought it worthwhile to revive it………

Bronwynne 'live'

A UK debut here for Mississippi raised Bronwynne Brent and before we say anything else a triumph over adversity as Brent’s initial plan to bring over her own musicians (including her producer Johnny Sangster) fell apart leading to plan B, a scratch band who only met the singer/songwriter two days before the show. So it was that Euan Burton, double bass player with Kris Drever and guitarist Jamie Sturt from This Silent Forest were recruited, given some sound files to work with and a day’s rehearsal with Brent on her arrival on Scottish soil. Credit to them and to Brent as the trio excelled on stage sounding for all the world as if they were road veterans and companions, Burton’s bass warming the songs while Sturt was a revelation, coaxing some sublime sounds from his guitar and effects board, always sensitive to the moods of Brent’s songs.

As for Brent herself she appears on her album sleeves as a bit of a flower child, an image belied by the almost American Gothic sound of her songs. On stage she seems like an amalgamation of the younger Joni Mitchell and Emmylou Harris, long flaxen hair and hesitant presence. She admitted to being nervous but once she started to sing, her voice, world weary and stained with echoes of Karen Dalton and at times Amy Winehouse had the house in thrall. Roaming from the dark folk of Dark Highway to tumbledown blues such as Wrecked My Mind Brent impressed as she invoked the spooky Americana feel of acts such as the Handsome Family , a feel that was bolstered by Sturt’s inventive sounds effects and guitar. A measure of the trio’s cohesion was the compelling version of Bulletproof, on Brent’s Stardust album an organ infused blues jaunt but tonight delivered in a spare manner before Sturt’s guitar sparked into life scattering aural gunshots from the stage. For a singer who was keen after the show to seek reassurance that her nervousness wasn’t too apparent one only has to point to the excellent rendition of Don’t Tell Your Secrets To The Wind delivered earlier. Mixing chanson and Calexico’s Tex-Mex style Brent was both coquettish and confidant while Burton and Sturt filled all spaces absent from the recorded version.

After this stage debut the trio headed off for a short UK tour and a Bob Harris session due to be broadcast in March. In the meantime tonight was a wonderful opportunity to catch a very fine songwriter and performer who might soon outgrow the relative confines of the bijou setting tonight.

Best of 2014

albums

There’s a lot or pros and cons when it comes to listing end of year best ofs or favourites. Two years ago Blabber’n’Smoke eventually plumbed for the pros outweighing the cons so this is the third time we’ve presented what, when it comes down to it, is an arbitrary choice of remembered listen. Albums that have stood the test of (a relatively short) time, the ones we’ve returned to or recommended to others in the pub. Above all it’s been fun to look back, read the reviews and see if they still stand. So with this in mind the following are the official Blabber’n’Smoke 2014 picks, in alphabetical order.

Blue Rose Code. Ballads Of Peckham Rye
Birds Of Chicago. Live From Space
Fire Mountain. All Dies Down
Bradford lee Folk and The Bluegrass Playboys. Somewhere Far Away
Cahalen Morrison & Eli West. I’ll Swing My Hammer With Both My Hands
Jim Keaveny. Out Of Time
Parker Millsap. Parker Millsap
Michael Rank & Stag. Deadstock
Sturgill Simpson. Metamodern Sounds In Country Music
John Southworth. Niagara

Random honourable mentions go to

Lucinda Williams Down Where the Spirit Meets The Bone,
The Johnny Cash Native American album reboot, Look Again To The Wind,
Danny and The Champions Of The World’s Live Champs!
Dan Michealson & The Coastguards Distance
Cale Tyson’s EP, High On Lonesome,
Luke Tuchsherer’s debut You Get So Alone at Times It makes Sense,
Petunia’s Inside Of You,
Ags Connolly How about Now,
Chris Cacavas & Edward Abbiati. Me And The Devil along with Abbiati’s band Lowlands who delivered the excellent Love Etc.,
Zoe Muth. World Of Strangers,
Hank Wangford & The Lost Cowboys. Save Me The Waltz .
Grant Peeples and the Peeples Rebublic. Punishing The Myth.
Simone Felice. Strangers.
Bronwynne Brent. Stardust.
Sylvie Simmons. Sylvie (allowing an honorary mention here for Howe Gelb who produced).
The War On Drugs. Lost In The Dream.
Lynne Hanson. River Of Sand.
Gal Holiday & The Honky Tonk Revue. Last To Leave.
And finally John Murry’s EP, Califorlonia which is brilliant and hopefully just an appetiser for his follow up to the majestic Graceless Age.

Digging through the archives it’s been noticeable that there’s been a fine contribution this year from Scottish acts who dip into or draw from an Americana well to a greater or lesser extent. While Blue Rose Code’s Ballads Of Peckam Rye features above the following are all stellar contributions to the local scene.

Dropkick. Homeward
Dumb Instrument. The Silent Beard (with the Scottish song of the year, Suffering from Scottishness).
John Hinshelwood. Lowering The Tone.
The David Latto Band. Here Today, Ghost Tomorrow EP
Norrie McCulloch. Old Lovers Junkyard
The New Madrids. Through the Heart of Town.
Red Pine Timber Company. Different Lonesome
The Rulers Of The Root. Porky Dreams
Ten Gallon Bratz. Tales From The Long Shadows

Although his album, Little Glass Box came out in 2012, Fraser Anderson is a major find of the year while another local lad, Daniel Meade unleashes his Nashville recorded Keep Right Away in January. Hopefully folk will have long enough memories to recall this when it comes to compiling the 2015 lists. In the meantime it can be first on the New Year shopping list.

Bronwynne Brent. Stardust.

Brent

Over the past few years it seems that the tsunami of talent that appears at the Folk Alliance International gathering in Kansas eventually laps up on our shores as promoters and distributers sign deals to release albums and set up tours in old Blighty. The first wave of 2014 is Mississippi’s Bronwynne Brent with her second release Stardust and if any that follow are half as good then we’re in for a treat.

The cover art portrays Brent as a flower garlanded hippie songstress with an ever so slight resemblance to Joni Mitchell back in the days. However one listen to her voice and thoughts of Mitchell fly out the window as Brent has an earthiness that forever eluded Joni’s rarefied atmosphere. Instead Brent has that seemingly untutored and effortless way of singing that borders on the idiosyncratic with the weight of emotion on its shoulders. Immensely attractive and engaging Brent’s voice is in the tradition of singers like Billie Holiday, Karen Dalton, Melanie and Alela Diane while at times there’s even a hint of the late Amy Winehouse on the more up-tempo numbers here.

The beguiling vocals are the entree to the album’s pleasures but Brent proves to have a way with words as she sings of loss and despair for the most part. The songs portray abandoned women, betrayed, trying to find some comfort in their inner worlds but condemned to relive their tragedies in their memories. It’s not a happy album but happily Brent has embroidered her words with some exceptionally fine music which ranges from the glacial folk noire of Devil Again to the rustbucket blues of Bulletproof and the tombstone Mexicana of Lay Me Down. She’s ably assisted in this by producer Johnny Sangster’s guitar skills whether it be twangy reverb or country picking while the drumstool is occupied by the unmistakeable cool of Calexico’s John Convertino, reason enough some might think to pick up the album. Add to this the presence of anther Calexico cohort, Jon Rauhouse on pedal steel on several songs and the album’s pedigree is impeccable. Well recommended.

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