Pieta Brown finds her voice

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Her father is the acclaimed Greg Brown, a deeply literate, husky-voiced folkie, and Pieta Brown has cultivated her own patch of Americana--a hazy hybrid of old-school honky-tonk, inchoate blues, and unadorned folk. If most anybody else tried singing one of her original songs--or even flat-out replaced her vocal tracks on one of her albums--they'd probably sound pretty average. It's not Brown's songwriting that makes her music stick but rather her extraordinary voice. It's somehow both tough and vulnerable, raw and precise, bitter and sweet.

Her control of this impressive instrument isn't perfect, but her most recent album, last year's Remember the Sun (One Little Indian), suggests that it's improving. When she sticks to country and blues, she sounds a lot like Lucinda Williams--though her voice is cleaner--but she's at her best on songs that don't belong so clearly to an idiom. Some of the credit goes to guitarist and coproducer Bo Ramsey, a former Williams collaborator, who presides over arrangements that heighten the tension between warmth and ambiguity in the tunes, but that's not to take anything away from Brown--on the opener, "Innocent Blue," which is more incantation than melody, her blue notes and sensually soft phrasing hit like a ton of bricks.

Brown, who contributed an excellent cameo on Calexico's new album, is only in her early 30s, and on her past couple of records she's shown a steep learning curve--watch out. She opens for Gary Louris at the Old Town School of Folk Music tomorrow night.

Today's playlist:

Celso Fonseca, Feriado (MP,B/EMI)
Rob Brown Ensemble, Crown Trunk Root Funk (Aum Fidelity)
Gilfema +2, Gilfema +2 (ObliqSound)
Beto Villares, Beto Villares (Six Degrees)
Eddie Palmieri, Echando Pa'Lante (Tico/Fania)

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