[29 September 2011]
Pieta Brown fans know what to expect from her records. Sure, she may sing a country roots song, then follow it with a blues number or let it bleed into folk or alternative rock, but, despite the differences in genre, each track seems thoroughly grounded in Brown’s whispery style. Her soft vocals create a gossamer web. Whether she’s got the blues, getting down and dirty, or just observing the world passing her by, Brown never gets too excited.
But don’t mistake that for a lack of passion. For example when Brown croons, “Here it comes / Here it come / Here it comes / Here comes my love”, she sounds sleepy more than agitated. There’s something sexy about this. The connection between being drowsy and soliciting sexual activity simply implies that one is going to take things slow, real slow. Taking one’s time is a turn on. On another song she uses the simple pickup line, “It’s closing time with nothing better to do.” Might as well get it on as the bars are no longer open.
Or when Brown’s got the blues, she’s got the “Butterfly Blues”. She feels like trapped by one who loves her for her beauty, but also gives the impression that she could leave the metaphorical cage at any time if she were only determined enough. Brown keeps the pacing slow to capture that feeling of uneasiness one gets when one just can’t decide what to do.
As a whole, the baker’s dozen worth of new cuts here displays Brown’s ability to capture a mood and create a vibe where nothing ever happens, but you know it’s about to. That’s why the title track “Mercury” is appropriate. Just like that liquid metal element, Brown seems to be never in a solid state. She keeps everything level and at a normal temperature because that’s where the greatest changes happen. One small shift can turn what exists into a radically different form and even turn a plaything into poison.
Brown keeping things at an even keel is greatly abetted by the fact that she is joined by the master of minimal electric guitar playing (and her husband) Bo Ramsey. Ramsey and Brown also co-produced the record. Lucinda Williams, whose band Ramsey used to be in, once quipped that Bo never played two notes when he could just play one. That’s certainly true here as Ramsey lets each note resonate fully before hitting the next one. This adds beauty to the melodies and rhythms. It also lets Brown’s vocals float over the background no matter what the topic. Even when she sings about being on fire, she does so in measured tones and compares herself to an oak or maple leaf that changes colors in the fall before being burned.
Mercury offers subtle pleasures. There is something inscrutable about Brown’s genre-shifting music. She somehow makes everything the same without removing their differences. Brown’s not taking the listener for a ride, it’s not that kind of Mercury. Instead, she’s offering to be a passenger. Brown lets the music put you on her wavelength. She goes along for the trip, strums her acoustic guitar and sings as a way of earning her passage. There’s no reason to travel the roads of life without company.