Pieta Brown & Dream #9 at the Mill in Iowa City 6-12-09 (review)

Pieta Brown Live at the Mill Iowa City Poster

As I reported earlier, Pieta Brown assembled a band to shake up her live performances, which are typically a duo (usually with Bo Ramsey on guitars). This makes for a very intimate performance and Pieta’s music and vocals undeniably shine in this setup, but it’s been my opinion for a while that she should perform in a band setting to more closely approximate her albums. So, I was naturally very interested to see this lineup at the Mill. I wasn’t too concerned about the success of this, since Dream #9 is made up of regular sidemen– Bo Ramsey on lead guitar and Jon Penner on bass. Dream #9 also has Jim Viner on drums. Jim has worked with Bo and Jon frequently, and Jim is also on Pieta’s new self-released EP Flight Time with Bo and Jon.

Friday night was rainy, and the prospects of subjecting my gear to certain watery peril was eating away at my resolve it seemed. Eventually with the coaxing of my wife I made a late departure from Cedar Rapids. The show started at 8PM, and the opening act– Parlour Suite— came with good online reviews, but my late departure meant I would miss most– if not all of their set. Indeed, I walked in at 8:45 and they were just wrapping up their set.

I ran into Jim Viner and his wife Katy eating at one of the booths so I got the lowdown on the Daytrotter session. Jim finished his chicken strips and made for the stage and I ended up sitting with Katy most of the night– when I wasn’t out shooting pictures anyway.

Pieta Brown and Dream #9 at The Mill

One of the first surprising things about this band lineup is that Pieta is playing electric guitar, too! I sort expected that she’d rock the acoustic, and leave the electric up to Bo. She concentrated on two guitars– a black Gibson SG with a P-90 pickup, and a Reverend Flatroc with a Bigsby. I recognized both of these guitars as being Bo’s. I saw that SG for the first time at Bo’s last gig at the Mill. The Reverend is one he’s had for a while, and is a unique guitar in that Reverend didn’t make many with the Bigsby, and in fact isn’t a standard option. After the show I asked Pieta about the guitars and she said that the guitars she wanted to play hadn’t arrived. She said that she has a Reverend Flatroc coming as well as a white Fender Telecaster! Those will be very complimentary to Bo’s guitars since one of his primary axes is a Telecaster Deluxe, too. Pieta said that she used to play electric guitar out when she lived in Tulsa and had a band– a fact I hadn’t heard before.

Bo Ramsey of Dream #9

Jim Viner of Dream #9

Jon Penner of Dream #9

Dream #9 is made up of seasoned musicians and are able to pull together a show on-the-fly with little prep. Effectively this band has only been playing Pieta’s songs for a couple of days– but they all found the pocket in Pieta’s songs perfectly.

Pieta Brown live in Iowa City

The show was a quick hour-and-a-half single set. The Mill wraps their shows up pretty early– the show was over by 11PM. So, don’t worry about going to mid-week shows here– you should still be in bed in time for work the next day provided you behave yourself! I was surprised about the low turn out. I guess the rain kept folks home– like it almost did for me.

The set was made up of a nice selection from all of Pieta’s albums and included some new songs that I assume are under consideration for a new album. All of Pieta’s songs benefit from the country-blues sound that I equate with Bo Ramsey and his projects. It gives the songs a similar feel and recognizable to her albums– all of which Bo helped produce. I would have liked to hear more songs from the new EP, but I suspect that as the band plays together more there will be variation in the set list. It was pretty clear that having the two Iowa shows was giving the group the home-court advantage to work out any kinks that might exist with this new arrangement.

Bo Ramsey and Pieta Brown

I really like Pieta fronting a band like this– it draws natural comparisons to other strong female artists like Lucinda Williams or maybe even Chrissy Hynde of the Pretenders. A good, structured driving rhythm really shows the strength of the songs– and not for a lack of intimacy where needed. On the song “Even When” from the Flight Time EP the band shows knows how to carry a gentle song, too.

Listening to the band and Pieta talking after the show it was clear that they were satisfied with the results, so hopefully we’ll start seeing more Dream #9-fueled shows in the future!

The band did record a Daytrotter show on Thursday, so I hope that session gets released in the near future.

Setlist (1 hour 27 minutes):

Sunrise Highway #44
In My Mind I Was Talking to Loretta
Rollin’ and Tumbin’
You’re My Lover Now
Rollin’ Down The Track
Bad News
Loving You Still
How Many Times Do I Hear Myself Say These Things
Faller (introduced as a new song)
West Monroe
I’m Going Away Blues (Frank Stokes cover)
Hey Run
Even When
Fourth of July
Over You
Remember The Sun
Are You Free

Click Here to visit Pieta Brown’s website.

Click Here to visit Pieta Brown’s MySpace Page

IT’S STAR TIME! – The Diplomats of Solid Sound Featuring the Diplomettes at 3rd Street Live 1-26-08

The Diplomettes

“It’s Star Time!!!” Doug announced to the Saturday night crowd at 3rd Street Live after a quick instrumental set of songs from The Diplomats of Solid Sound. “It’s Star Time!!” he repeated and introduced the lovely ladies of The Diplomettes who were greeted by enthusiastic cheering and clapping.

The announcement style is a tribute to the emcee Danny Ray who used to exclaim “Star Time!” before James Brown hit the stage. It’s with this knowing wink that The Diplomats of Solid Sound pays homage to the work of soul greats like James Brown who is arguably the architect of the music that influences them. The B3-fueled sound of The Diplomats draws equally from the Stax houseband Booker T and the MG’s and Brown’s band the JB’s.

Nate Basinger on the keys

The band seems very comfortable in the role of backing band to the three vocalists of the Diplomettes. Prior to July 2006 when the girls joined the group, The Diplomats of Solid Sound were largely an instrumental act with three albums under their belt; two of which on independent label Estrus Records. They were enjoying a modicum of popularity mostly in the EU where they had been doing touring and by the finicky tastes of TV producers needing a juicy instrumental vamp for some scene on VH1 and MTV’s regular diet of reality shows. In a similar fashion to Booker T and the MG’s each of the members of the band are noted regional sessionmen performing on most of the noted Eastern Iowa recordings in the last ten years.

Jim Viner and Doug Roberson from the Diplomats of Solid Sound

I guess the last time I saw the Diplomats was March of 2006 at Martini’s. I’ve seen the guys since then– Nate and Jim at the two Bo Ramsey shows and Doug a couple of times at the Picador. There always seemed to be something conflicting with convenient shows. As such, I hadn’t seen any performances with the Diplomettes other than catching some clips on YouTube.

Back then, the Diplomat shows were pretty much low-key affairs. The band pulling out chestnuts from Booker T and the MG’s as well as Blue Note acts and the occasional surf tune in addition to their own material. A great band to kick back and listen to while drinking and hanging with friends. The 2008 version of the band delivers a completely different show.

In fact, the show Saturday night was almost more of a revue in the classic ’60’s sense focusing on showmanship. The focus of the show was the Diplomettes who brought a vintage girl group sensibilityto the act. Each of the three ladies provided lead vocal turns while the other two provided harmonies; sometimes singing in a three-part harmony. I could hear similarities to Motown acts like the Supremes and Martha and the Vandellas, but also Southern Soul/Stax styles, or a Phil Spector girl group influence. At times the vocals seemed to have a 40’s Andrews Sisters feel (at least in the three-part harmonies). Visually, the Diplomettes are stunning– color coordinated dresses and choreography all add to the appeal. I particularly like the palms-out and drop done to “Lights Out.”


I was fairly familiar with a lot the songs as I’d been listening to them streaming from the Diplomettes MySpace page— it seemed like the crowd was as well. Original songs like “Hurt Me So” and “Come In My Kitchen” are certainly crowd pleasers. One cover that took me by surprise was the “We’re Doin’ It (Thang) (pt. 2)” by Eddie Bo and the Soulfinders! I’m familiar with this song due to its inclusion in the DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist Brainfreeze all-45’s mix. Very nice choice. I guess these shows are also an education in rare R&B!

The crowd Saturday night was great– lots of folks up dancing of all ages. My wife had a great time and we are talking about going to see them again in February– possibly in Dubuque or in Iowa City.

Go see them if you get a chance!

Here is my flickr.com photoset of the show with more pictures.

The Diplomats of Solid Sound Website

The Diplomats of Solid Sound MySpace Page with songs

The Diplomettes MySpace Page with songs

The Diplomats of Solid Sound Featuring the Diplomettes on Facebook