The session is a nice cross-section of Pieta’s career:
1. “#807” is from her 2005 release In The Cool, which was released on Valley Entertainment and apparently is still in print!
2. “Going Away Blues” is a Frank Stokes cover that Pieta also recorded for her self-released 2003 EP I Never Told which is impossibly out-of-print. I managed to get one of these when Pieta discovered a box last year.
Last week I posted about the first of the three This Land is Your Music shows at The Mill Restaurant in Iowa City featuring Pieta Brown and selected regional artists. Last week’s show featured Pieta in a solo acoustic setting. This week’s show featured Pieta in her most common live configuration– in a duo with Bo Ramsey. This was a show I was really looking forward to as it also had Bo as the opening act as a solo acoustic performance, which I hadn’t seen before!
As much as I look back fondly on the bar-rocking Sliders days of Bo, it is really interesting to see the “gentleman bluesman” identity Bo has adopted in the last decade or so. Seeing Bo on stage sitting down with his acoustic guitar in trademark attire of suit, boots and straw hat recalls at once both Hank Williams and Robert Johnson.
Bo’s music translates favorably to an acoustic setting and his guitar technique and chops are just as impressive as his electric ones. The song selection for his set spanned his entire career dipping back to the 80’s with “Back No More” and “I Don’t Know.” He pulled out “555 x 2” from Down to Bastrop which drew a favorable crowd reaction. We were also treated to his cover of “Sitting On Top of the World” he recorded for his blues “tribute” album Stranger Blues and my personal favorite from last year’s Fragile, “Buffalo to Jericho.”
Bo also performed two new songs– both of them co-written with Pieta Brown. “No Place Like Home” and “Going Back.” “Going Back” is a chanted lament for a simpler time with the repeated phrase “I’m Going Back.” Both songs are good– I’d heard them when Bo played the Mill back at the end of October. Hopefully this means he’s working on another album of material!
After a very short break where Pieta and Bo huddled in the corner going over the setlist they would play– they started into their set. It’s impressive to think that Pieta and Bo have been performing like this since the beginning of her career dating back to her first record around 2002. Bo as a sideman is a generational tradition started with Bo and Greg Brown and it’s an effective if economical way to perform. It is clearly a comfortable arrangement for both Bo and Pieta and neither of them really overshadow the other.
The set didn’t have much duplicates from last week except for three songs– the new “Faller” which is based on her meeting Tom Petty, “Calling All Angels,” and “Bad News.” The rest of the songs were a good mix of new and old and some choice covers. We also got a new track from the Shimmer EP– “Diamonds in the Sky” which she introduced by saying it was the first time playing it outside her bedroom.
The highlight of the night, however, was when she called Dave Moore up to the stage to perform five songs with them. He stuck to harmonica for most of the songs adding incendiary licks to “Are You Free”– I wish I would have recorded that! He switched to accordion for the Hank Williams song “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.”
In the backroom gallery was work by Codi Josephson who runs Home Ec Workshop in Iowa City. She showed a collection of print-on-fabric pieces that looked pretty cool. You can see the exhibit in the flickr picture set.
This Thursday, 11/19 is the final show in the series and will have Pieta Brown fronting a full band made up of members of Bo’s band. Having seen her fronting a full band before, I urge anyone who can make it to come out! The first two shows were fairly low-key, but with a drummer there is a good chance people will be out shaking it on the dance floor. The opening act will be Dustin Busch, and the gallery exhibit will be from Sandy Dyas and will be an installation of her photographs– I think it will be based on her “Heaven and Earth” installation at Cornell College. Doors are at 7PM, show is promptly at 8PM and admission is $10– the proceeds of which go to support Public Radio, KCCK, and the Friends of Hickory Hill.
Bo’s Setlist: Sitting On Top Of The World (Big Bill Broonzy cover)
No Place Like Home*
Tell Me Now
555 x 2
Back No More
Buffalo to Jericho
I Don’t Know
Pieta’s Setlist” How Many Times
Prayer of Roses*
Loving You Still
Rollin’ Down the Tracks
I’m Going Away Blues (w/Dave Moore) (Frank Stokes cover)
Are You Free (w/Dave Moore)
Diamonds In The Sky (w/Dave Moore)
I Don’t Want to Come Down (w/Dave Moore)
I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry (w/Dave Moore) (Hank Williams cover)
Calling All Angels
I’m Over You
Red Apple Juice (standard)
In the middle of her solo performance at The Mill in Iowa City Thursday night, Pieta said to the small crowd, “It’s like I’m playing to you in my living room!” Pieta was referring to the small crowd on Thursday night, but the stage was adorned with a chair and nightstand as well as lamps and an old dress form giving the stage a homey touch with lighting designed by Stan Crocker, who has done a lot of lighting design for TV shows like CMT’s Crossroads.
Last night was the first night of a three-week artist-in-residency at the Mill Restaurant in Iowa City of Pieta Brown. As stated earlier, the This Land Is Your Music series is showcasing Pieta Brown’s music but also includes other musicians from the area as well as other artists. Pieta stated in an interview with Ben Kieffer on IPR’s The Exchange that she wanted to take the opportunity to try out her music– new music and old in different configurations– solo, duo and full-band. She feels that The Mill was is a good place for her to try out new material which will be drawn from her new EP on Red House Shimmer, as well as songs that she is recording for her next full-length to come out next spring.
Last night’s show featured Pieta performing solo with Bo Ramsey’s son Alex Ramsey opening. In the back-room gallery the art of Pieta’s sister Zoe Brown and photographs by Dustin Busch were on exhibit. A last-minute addition to the lineup were three writers from the University of Iowa International Writing Program reading their short stories.
Alex Ramsey has contributed his keyboard skills to a number of Eastern Iowa music releases including a two records from the Pines as well as the last couple of Bo Ramsey albums but to date he hasn’t had much exposure as a solo artist. I made the very incorrect assumption that Alex, like his brother Benson would provide a sound that draws from the folk and country blues that is identified with so many artists from our area. Alex played a set of original piano-driven music that reminded me at times of Radiohead’s piano-focused songs but I would also compare it to the late Epic Soundtracks. It’s the slightly off-kilter but soulful vocal combined with the piano that brought me back to 1991’s Rise Above. Alex’s set was a combination of vocal and instrumental songs– most of which were described as works-in-progress. Alex performed three covers– one by Dr. Dog– “Livin’ A Dream,” a relatively obscure John Lennon track “Mr. Hyde’s Gone (Don’t Be Afraid)” which I think is only included on the Anthology box as a home demo, and he wrapped up his set with “Waltz (Better Than Fine)” by Fiona Apple. He said during the show that he wished he had a CD he could sell us– I do, too!
Following Alex was three participants in the International Writing Program reading their own short stories. I wasn’t able to catch their names, but one of them was Maxine Case from South Africa who read her short story “Homing Pigeons” (exerpt here). Another writer was Garcia Groyon from the Philippines. I can’t identify the first writer from the pictures. I think it was pretty cool that they were able to participate– it reminded me of the incredible resource the U of I writing program is.
Up next was Pieta who set out to do a solo set, but ended up adding in some special guests towards the end of it. I’d never seen her perform solo before, so it was a treat to hear how her guitar work changes to fill in the missing guitar parts typically provided by Bo Ramsey. She’s not a flashy lead guitarist, but I was impressed with her ability to drop in a arpeggiated chord or two to round the songs out. “New songs and new guitars– probably not an advisable combination” she quipped at one point– apparently she had all new guitars in tow. The last time I saw her she mentioned that she was getting her own Reverend Flatroc, so this time the guitar was here. In a pretty butterscotchish color apparently called “Rock Orange.”
The set was a pretty good mix recent songs, older songs and new songs as she set out to do. Curiously, she only did one song from her upcoming EP Shimmer– “You’re My Lover Now”– which seems to be the “single” if there was one. Of course, the Shimmer songs were recorded back in March and she said that she just got back from recording songs for her full length, so possibly these are fresher to her. She told me that she doesn’t really hit the stage with a setlist in mind. Three of the songs were from her self-released Flight Time EP with just one track from Remember the Sun and her arrangement of the traditional “Little Sparrow” from her I Never Told EP. She dropped in her version of the blues standard “Rollin’ and Tumblin'” and “Calling All Angels” which she did as part of her KCRW session back in 2007.
We were blessed with some new songs that all sound like they have some potential in the studio. “The Other Way Around” and “It Wasn’t That” were new songs to me. She also did “Faller” which I had heard when she did her show at the Mill with a full band back in June.
After the first nine songs she decided to invite her sister Constie Brown up to sing on “Remember the Sun” and “Just” and then she invited Dustin Busch up to the stage to provide some slide guitar to “Rollin’ and Tumblin'” and “Harry’s Blues.” Pieta said that her original plan was to play all of the instruments she had on stage by herself as she handed Dustin the Flatroc and a slide. She added that growing up music was always about getting people together to play. Dustin quickly adapted to the guitar and provided some nice accompaniment to Pieta. I’m looking forward to seeing his opening set at the This Land Is Your Music show on 11/19.
The backroom gallery was the back area of the restaurant that could be closed off and I think is sometimes used as a “backstage” area for bands. In its capacity of art gallery it was able to have some lighting to show the paintings of Zoe Brown and the photos of Dustin Busch. The gallery seemed to enjoy a pretty constant flow of people.
I like Zoe’s paintings quite a bit– you can see more of them in my slideshow below or at the flickr.com set. She’s not afraid of big expanses of color. Dustin’s double-exposureish photos were pretty cool, too. I would have liked to see more of them and maybe larger.
Ultimately, I think this is a really cool thing that Pieta is trying to put together. The idea is pure– bring the regional art together in celebration and give back. I think in our Internet-enabled era where we find our art and culture on a nearly boundless territory we often forget that there are artists in our own backyard that are worth supporting.
If you are available on either of the next two Thursday nights– 11/12 and 11/19– make the effort to come out. These are guaranteed to be loose, fun shows as Pieta considers the Mill to be her home turf.
The 11/12 show has Bo Ramsey opening and supporting her in her set with a gallery of Codi Josephson’s work. The 11/19 show will have Dustin Busch opening with Pieta fronting a full band that, billed as “Skyrocket,” I believe will have Jon Penner, Steve Hayes and Al Shares (I think). The gallery on the 19th will be a installation of photographs of Iowa photographer and supporter of the local scene Sandy Dyas.
The cover is $10 will proceeds going to support Iowa Public Radio, KCCK, and the Friends of Hickory Hill. Doors are at 7PM with the show starting at 8PM.
Other Way Around*
It Wasn’t That*
Calling All Angels
Gravel Road Blues (Joe Price Cover)
You’re My Lover Now
Remember the Sun (with Constie Brown)
Just (with Constie Brown)
Rollin’ and Tumblin’ (with Dustin Busch)
Harry’s Blues (with Dustin Busch) (Mississippi Fred McDowell Cover)
Pieta Brown and The Iowa City Mill have announced a three-week residency in November called “This Land Is Your Music” and will have Pieta exploring her catalog in various solo and band configurations as well as showcasing local musicians.
The shows will take place the first three Thursdays in November: 11/5, 11/12, and 11/19 and will start at 8PM. The tickets will be $10.
As the daughter of Greg Brown, Pieta grew up surrounded by the fertile and tight-knit Eastern Iowa music scene. It was this scene that gave Pieta the launching pad to her career and these shows are a way for her to give tribute. I think this is a really cool thing for her to do.
When I saw Bo Ramsey and the Mystery Lights at the Mill back in May, Pieta was kind of hanging back in the shadows of the dark bar and helping her sister sell some Bo Ramsey merchandise. After the show was over I took the opportunity to ask her about her record label situation. After being signed to One Little Indian for her last album, the brilliant Remember the Sun from 2007 the follow-up Flight TimeEP was released on T-Records, which incidentally is the label she used to release her 2003 EP I Never Told.
(BTW: This EP was impossibly out-of-print and apparently Pieta found another box of these recently and you can buy them on CDBaby— get one while you can!)
Her simple answer was that she was “in limbo.” It certainly occurred to me that aside from the extensive touring and appearances she was making over the last couple of years, that she still wasn’t getting the exposure she deserved for that album.
It was announced today via her MySpace page that she has now signed to Twin Cities folk label Red House Records— which is also the label home for Greg Brown and The Pines. So, it is kind of a family reunion of sorts! All they’d need to do is sign Bo Ramsey and it would be complete!
Also as part of this announcement, we find out that she has a new 7-track EP titled Shimmer coming out on November 10th on Red House and is produced by uber-producer Don Was, who has produced acclaimed albums from Bob Dylan (Under the Red Sky), Bonnie Raitt (Her Grammy-winningest run– 1989’s Nick of Time (3 Grammies), 1991’s Luck of the Draw (3 Grammies), 1994’s Longing In Their Hearts (2 Grammies)) and The Rolling Stones (their last notable output in my opinion– 1994’s Voodoo Lounge, 1995’s Stripped, and 1997’s Bridges to Babylon).
All of this seems to me to be a formula for success, frankly. Switching to a label that is more geared to handle her music, and hiring on a big-gun producer who has worked with artists like her. I hope that Bo Ramsey will still be a big part of this recording even if he isn’t at the helm for this one. He certainly knows his way around a Grammy-winner in the studio, too– just look at his work with Lucinda Williams!