Pieta Brown: Remember the Sun

Pieta Brown’s latest CD was released in Europe three months before it was scheduled for a domestic release. Iowa City’s Brown, like many Hawkeye musicians, are better appreciated abroad than they are valued at home.

Pieta Brown

Remember the Sun

Label: One Little Indian
US Release Date: 2007-09-27
UK Release Date: 2007-06-18

Iowa City has earned a positive reputation as the center for a certain type of music -- a mixture of folk, rock, blues and country -- exemplified by such artists as Greg Brown, Bo Ramsey, Death Ships, Kevin Gordon, Dave Moore, Dave Zollo, Kelly Pardekooper, and many others. Photographer Sandy Dyas has recently documented the scene in her excellent new book Down to the River: Portraits of Iowa Musicians. Smart asses call the town the Austin (Texas) of the Midwest, implying that Iowa City is merely a big stink in the middle of nowhere, but the truth is the town’s music can hold its own against any other scene. Maybe that’s why Pieta Brown’s latest CD was released in Europe three months before it was scheduled for a domestic release. Iowa City’s Brown, like many Hawkeye musicians, are better appreciated abroad than they are valued at home.

Brown’s Remember the Sun merits celebration. The disc succeeds on every level. The songwriting is tight (which was the downfall of Brown’s previous releases), the singing topnotch, the instrumentation solid, and the production crisp. Brown penned all the material. The lyrics reveal her Iowa heritage. There are no mountains or oceans referred to here. Instead the images come from the natural landscape of the Midwest: the sun, rivers, train tracks, and such -- the stuff one sees everywhere, but notices more out in the prairie lands where there is nothing else to see. This gives the ordinary a sense of the transcendent. “You can find the sun wherever you go”, Brown notes on the title tune. That and the fact that the sun reappears every day are what makes the shining orb so special.

Brown sings in a dusty voice that sweetly rumbles and rolls like a babbling brook replenished by an underground spring. Her vocalizations have no sharp edges. She rounds out the measures and lets her phrases tumble into each other. She doesn’t reach for high or low notes, but just lets her voice slide into them. When she sings through an affected filter, as on her boasting litany of toughness “Not Scared”, Brown sounds like an unexplained phenomena of nature such as a hurricane on the plains. There is something real and powerful behind the weirdness of it all.

Bo Ramsey’s sparely beautiful electric and slide guitar playing skillfully complements Brown’s singing and acoustic guitar work. Ramsey’s laconic style (he never plays two notes when one will do) enhances the richness of Brown’s work in the way a little bit of salt brings out the flavor of home cooking. Brown and Ramsey co-produced the disc, along with Chris Goldsmith, in a manner that puts the vocals in the forefront but lets the guitars ring. Chad Cromwell’s steady drumming and percussion is also noteworthy. He keeps the tempos bright and never lets the music lose direction.

The best songs here are characterized by a wry intelligence mixed with an artful inventiveness. Brown knows how to keep things simple without being simple-minded, especially on tunes like “Sonic Boom”, “Innocent Blue”, and “In My Mind I Was Talkin’ to Loretta”. Brown tells the country legend who sang about rocky relationships and birth control back in the '60s how much things have changed (“divorce and pills are commonplace”), but complains that what a female’s role is has not become any clearer (“just what’s a woman supposed to do?”). Brown realizes that one can’t get an answer talking to an imaginary friend. However, one can find release by listening to music. As a solution, Brown plays one of Loretta Lynn’s old records.

I once ran into a London Times critic at South by Southwest who, after hearing Pieta Brown perform, told me how lucky I was to be from Iowa City. I usually feel provincial and unworthy at SXSW around all the big time industry and media people, but I understood that he was not being condescending. His envy was sincere. The excellence of Brown’s new album will foster even more admiration for the Iowa scene. That’s okay, reader, if you're not from the Hawkeye state. We have plenty of room here for more music lovers.


In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Keep reading... Show less

The husband and wife duo DEGA center their latest slick synthpop soundscape around the concept of love in all of its stages.

Kalen and Aslyn Nash are an indie pop super-couple if there ever were such a thing. Before becoming as a musical duo themselves, the husband and wife duo put their best feet forward with other projects that saw them acclaim. Kalen previously provided his chops as a singer-songwriter to the Georgia Americana band, Ponderosa. Meanwhile, Aslyn was signed as a solo artist to Capitol while also providing background vocals for Ke$ha. Now, they're blending all of those individual experiences together in their latest project, DEGA.

Keep reading... Show less

On "Restless Mind", Paul Luc establishes himself as an exceptional 21st century bard who knows his way around evoking complex emotions in song.

The folk-rock swing of Paul Luc's upcoming Bad Seed is representative of the whole human condition. Following his previous track release in "Slow Dancing", the Pittsburgh singer-songwriter is sharing another mid-tempo, soulful number. This time, it describes the way too familiar feelings of uncertainty and diversion can, at times, sneak up on all of us.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.