The daughter of two preacher’s kids, Pieta Brown’s early upbringing in Iowa was in a rural outpost with no furnace, running water, or TV. There, she was exposed to traditional and rural folk music through her father, Greg Brown, the now beloved Midwestern folk singer. Later, while living with her mother in Birmingham, Alabama during her formative years, Pieta drew on and expanded these influences and began writing poems and composing instrumental songs on piano. By the time she left home at 18 she had lived in at least 19 different houses and apartments between Iowa and Alabama.
In her early 20’s, after experiencing what she describes as “the songs calling”, Pieta started experimenting with the banjo and eventually picked up a 1930’s Maybell arch-top guitar during a visit to her father’s place and never looked back. Emerging from a disjointed and distinctly ‘bohemian’ upbringing, Pieta began performing live and making independent recordings soon after teaching herself how to play guitar. “I grew up around a lot of musicians and artists living on the fringe, and have always felt most at home among them,” Pieta says.
Making her first recording with (now) frequent collaborator, guitar-ace and Grammy-Award winning Indie/Roots/Americana Producer, Bo Ramsey, started Pieta down the path of making recordings based around live performances. Her first album (self-titled), recorded and released independently in 2002, was recorded live in 3 days to 2-inch tape. “My first experience in the studio really steered me down a certain road,” Pieta says. “I was so shy about singing my songs then, and barely understood how to sing into a microphone, in spite of all the live music I had grown up around. Still, I was feverishly driven to deliver these songs in my heart. Right away, during that first recording session, as we were playing live and recording to tape as it went down, I experienced the magic of hooking all the way in with the song in the moment…playing the songs, with those players, playing those instruments, in that room, at that time. And ever since, I’ve been hooked on that magic feeling.”
Continually revealing new layers as both a songwriter and performer, Pieta is being recognized as one of modern Americana’s true gems. In just the last 4 years Pieta has released two critically acclaimed albums, with much attention being paid not only to her distinct sound and style, but also the power of her singing and songwriting. Since releasing One and All (2010) and Mercury (2011), Pieta has toured North America with Mark Knopfler, and toured various regions of the U.S., Australia and Canada with John Prine, Amos Lee, Brandi Carlisle, JJ Cale, Ani Difranco, Mavis Staples, and Calexico among others. She has made guest appearances on Mason Jennings‘ album, Always Been, two of Calexico‘s recent albums (Algiers and Carried To Dust), including singing on the song “Fortune Teller” (which Pieta penned with Joey Burns),as well as appearing on Amos Lee‘s album, Mission Bell (2012). Pieta’s father, Greg Brown, recorded one of her songs, Remember The Sun, on his album Freak Flag (2011), and invited her to sing and play banjo on his latest release, Hymns For What Is Left (2012). One of Pieta’s all time favorite singers, Iris Dement, has been singing Pieta’s song “Faller” (from One and All) in her live shows. Pieta’s song I Don’t Mind (from Mercury) was also recently translated and released (as Het Deert Me Niet) by Belgian pop songtress Eva De Roovere.
Now with Paradise Outlaw, Pieta delivers her most emotionally resonant compositions, and some of her most expressive performances, to date. Produced by Pieta, with frequent collaborator and partner, Bo Ramsey, Paradise Outlaw was recorded in four days at Bon Iver mastermind Justin Vernon’s April Base studio in Wisconsin with a supporting cast that includes Vernon, Amos Lee, Brown’s troubadour father, Greg Brown and various members of an experimental group of players she calls the Sawdust Collective.
Showcasing Brown’s established strengths while staking out fresh new creative territory, Brown says of the songs, “On my last album, I was recording near Nashville with top-call studio musicians who I hadn’t worked with before, and exploring the idea of craft and trying to hone in on more classic forms than I had previously.” She adds, “Paradise Outlaw came from a radically different place. I was thinking a lot about freedom, experimentation, poetry, folk songs, bending forms and voices. I also wrote and delivered half the songs on the banjo, which was completely new for me.”
Paradise Outlaw features twelve originals by Brown plus a co-write and duet with soulster Amos Lee (“Do You Know”) and a cover of Mark Knopfler’s“Before Gas And TV.”
Brown continues, “Growing up around many musicians and artists, often living on the fringe, I have always felt most at home among them. And that’s where I made this recording. Surrounded by friends in an underground Mid-western goldmine.”