Review: Pieta Brown, Truckstop Honeymoon

(Above: Pieta Brown sings to Loretta Lynn.)
By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star
When Pieta Brown was in town almost two months ago, she played her songs before a sold-out Midland Theater. As the opening act on Mark Knopfler’s tour, she had a dream gig of full houses and open-minded audiences.

Opportunities like that can boost a career, but it doesn’t happen overnight. Which is why just seven weeks later, Brown was back. The material may have been the same, but without Knopfler’s boost, Brown had trouble drawing more than three dozen people to her early evening set Friday night at Crosstown Station.

These are the roller coaster realities of an emerging artist, all too familiar to Brown. The daughter of folk singer Greg Brown, she released her first solo album in 2002. Her latest release dropped in April. On those albums Brown has crafted a sound that will please fans of Kathleen Edwards, Carrie Rodriguez and the Cowboy Junkies.

As before, Brown arrived armed with guitarist Bo Ramsey, who not only produced several of her father’s albums, but has also worked with obvious influences Lucinda Williams, Ani DiFranco and Calexico. Brown’s songs provided ample space for his tasty, slow-as-molasses solos to drip out.

Above: Bo Ramsey, left, and Pieta Brown during a 2009 performance.

The duo’s 75-minute set included several stand-out numbers, including “In My Mind I Was Talking To Loretta,” an homage to the time Brown’s parents took her to see “Coal Miner’s Daughter” and she came home wanting to be “Roletta Lynn.” The song is also a tribute to the run-down Iowa shack she grew up in surrounded by “miles and miles of haystacks and miles and miles of gravel roads,” as she told the crowd.

Other high points included the new song “Prayer of Roses,” and “4th of July,” a poignant memory of a rural holiday. The country girl also mixed in several blues numbers, including an adaptation of “Rolling and Tumbling” and a cover of Memphis Minnie’s “Looking the World Over.”

The sparse crowd sat attentively, appreciative, but distant.  It was the type of polite crowd that would wait until between songs to get up and head to the bathroom. No one thought, however, to stand up and move closer, which left a 15-foot chasm between the stage and the first row of tables.

Although Brown’s material was strong, the similar moods and arrangements caused them to blend together after a while. Some of the audience started to get bored, as the chatter from the bar picked up until it threatened to overwhelm the last quarter of the set.

For all of her considerable talents, Brown would be better off teaming up with similarly minded and situated artists. This would take the pressure off of having to sustain a full set, and broaden her reach. She would be a great addition to the July bill at Crossroads that includes Dar Williams and Rodriguez.

Brown was long gone by the time Truckstop Honeymoon took the stage an hour later. The quartet not only had the benefit of a later time slot, but also a local following. After Hurricane Katrina washed out bass player Katie Euliss and guitar/banjo player Mike West’s New Orleans home, the couple relocated to Lawrence, Kan.

Augmented by mandolin player Jake Wagner and drummer Colin Mahoney, the pair traded and harmonized on verses like Johnny Cash and June Carter, refusing to take anything seriously. When Euliss sang about the Christmas she got her mama high it was hard to tell how much was she made up. Later, West introduced the original “My Automobile” as a P-Funk cover.

The 90-minute set also included several new songs, like “Latch Key Kid Recipe Book,” an ode to absent parents and oven pizzas. “Kansas in the Spring” drew a parallel between tornadoes in the heartland and hurricanes on the coast.

The best moment was “Vacation Bible School,” another song that felt autobiographical. After coaxing the crowd into singing along on the ridiculously convoluted chorus about getting kicked out of bible school, West broke the audience into three parts and held a yodeling competition.

Keep reading:

Carrie Rodriguez honors family, roots on new album

Review: Robert Plant and Allison Krauss

Elvis Costello – “Secret, Profane and Sugarcane”

(Below: You have to hear it at least once – Truckstop Honeymoon’s ode to vacation Bible school.)

Carrie Rodriguez honors family, roots on new album

(Above: Carrie Rodriguez graces the Austin City Limits stage.)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

Over the years, Carrie Rodriguez closed her shows with “Punalda Trapera,” a Spanish-language number frequently performed by her great aunt, Eva Garza. Inevitably, fans asked which album it was on. The catch: it wasn’t – until now.

“Love and Circumstance,” Rodriguez third album, pays tributes to her family, inspirations and some contemporaries.

“Because of the response from fans, I decided to record these songs the way our band does them,” Rodriguez said.

Producer Lee Townsend helped Rodriguez pick the dozen covers, including well-known songs by Merle Haggard and Hank Williams, and surprising numbers by M. Ward and Little Village. Townsend was also able to convince Buddy Miller to take time from his tour with Robert Plant and Allison Krauss to contribute to the cover of his song “Wide River to Cross.”

“I’m a huge Buddy Miller fan. He’s one of the people I’ve always wanted to work with,” Rodriguez said. “Fortunately, he had a portable recording rig with him on the road, so he was able to record his vocal tracks from his hotel room on the road. It was very sweet of him.”

Carrie Rodriguez performs with Jim Lauderdale and Tim Easton on Sunday at Knuckleheads.

Rodriguez discovered “Punalda Trapera” while going through a stack of her grandmother’s records. The song was immediately added to her live act.

“Eva died in the late ‘40s, so I never got to meet her,” Rodriguez said. “She’s always been a family legend. When I was younger, my grandma would talk about her famous sister who was in films and made records and was on the radio. I always thought she was exaggerating until I got older.”

Even more personal is “When I Heard Gypsy Davy Sing,” a song by David Rodriguez that only existed as an e-mail file until his daughter recorded it. The elder Rodriguez came up in the Houston folk scene of the late ‘70s and moved to Holland when Carrie Rodriguez was 16.

“The song is about a singer in a bar looking back on what he’s done with his life and what he’s left behind,” Rodriguez said. “It was pretty heavy for me to sing as his daughter, but it was very therapeutic. Signing it made me feel closer to him.”

Longtime fans may remember the songs Rodriguez cut with Chip Taylor – writer of the song “Wild Thing” – as the violin player in his band. Her fiddle was largely absent on her last album, but has returned to prominence on “Love and Circumstance.”

“I let the song dictate what instrument I play,” Rodriguez said. “Part of why there wasn’t as much fiddle on the last record is that I couldn’t find a way to fit it in. The songs didn’t seem to need or want it.”

Writing songs on the guitar instead of the fiddle not only came more naturally to Rodriguez, but changed the dynamics of her songs.

“These days I end up writing on the guitar and can’t find a way to fit the fiddle in,” Rodriguez said. “There’s still plenty of fiddle in the live show, though.”

Two years ago, Rodriguez toured in Austin, Texas singer/songwriter Alejandro Escovedo’s band. Escovedo has been trying to convince Rodriguez to shift her alt-country roots and record a rock album.

“Al has good advice. I always have to consider his suggestions,” Rodriguez said. “Part of why I made this covers album was to take a step back and look at what kind of songs inspired me, and what kind of songs I want to write. Hopefully it’s given me some good inspiration for the next batch of songs I write.”

Keep reading:

Review: Robert Plant and Allison Krauss

Catching up with the Hot Club of Cowtown

Elvis Costello – “Secret, Profane and Sugarcane”