REVIEW: Pieta Brown’s “Freeway” Confronts Perennial Difficulties feat. Mark Knopfler


Pieta Brown, daughter of stalwart folk songwriter Greg Brown, returns with a new record out September 20 via Ani DiFranco’s Righteous Babe Records. Co-produced with Bon Iver drummer and solo artist S. Carey and recorded at Justin Vernon’s April Base Studio, Freeway finds Brown confronting the perennial difficulties we all have with change and transition. Brown says about the record, “The songs mirror so many transitions: in my musical life, in my home life, in my creative life, in my country. I’ve been hovering at a crossroads, and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one.” With accompaniment from Carey, bassist Mike Lewis (Bon Iver, Andrew Bird), and guitarist Jeremy Yivisaker (Andrew Bird, Alpha Consumer) Brown delivers an album that thrives on the push-and-pull of live music. Although the record was cut live in just three days, it doesn’t sound rushed – a testament to the quality of the songs and players.

“Ask for More,” an early single and the record opener, presents Brown’s intimate and inviting vocal over acoustic guitar that belies that nontraditional instrumentation ahead. The song slowly builds as it adds sparse drums, piano, and a subtle horn in the distance. “a penny for your thoughts…wishing in the purest form, just hold me now through the eye of the storm, and then I won’t…ask for more,” she sings. The title track, “Freeway”, finds Brown on the other end of the line waiting on a call, “won’t you call me on the phone, when you’re all alone, when you’re driving like you’re stoned on the freeway.” Her acoustic guitar is replaced by an electric and the accompanying instrumentation ratchets up to match this vigor. A guitar solo heavy in reverb and twang marks punctuates this peculiar but alluring drive into another place and time evoking the spaghetti west. “You can feel the wind in your hair, It’s always truth or dare on the freeway,…It’s hard to slow down once we start, are we free or falling apart on the freeway?” Brown’s question sounds inviting on her lips; like a siren’s song the pull of the freeway is strong. “Fly on fly on my friend, it’s just the beginning, it’s not the end,” she sings on “Only Flying” over a quiet acoustic guitar and piano. Its somber lament is equal parts sorrow and comfort.

“The Hard Way” features the instantly recognizable guitar work of the Dire Straits’ Mark Knopfler as it leans into Knopfler’s laid back pop-rock sensibilities. “Before We Break” is a slow burn, at once haunting and beguiling, that finds Brown exploring limits – hers and ours – and striving to find a way that, “we can bend before we break.” “Shelter Now” is a defiant closer, “Like the white lines on the highway, endlessly following day to day, I won’t stand just to stumble out, with nothing much to write home about, looking for shelter now, looking for shelter now,” Brown sings as she strives to build her own home, find her own place in the world, and ease off the freeway.

Pieta Brown’s Freeway is not the crowded roadways that surround practically every major American city, but is instead conjures the wide open roads that evoked the sense of freedom, escape, and release for generations of Americans. Ideal as a late night open road companion, Pieta Brown’s Freeway is the only co-pilot you need for your next long contemplative drive.

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