Iris Dement

DSP Shows

Iris Dement

Pieta Brown

Sun · June 30, 2019

Doors: 6:00 pm / Show: 8:00 pm

Gateway City Arts

Holyoke, MA

$30 - $35

General Admission Seated Show

The Bistro at Gateway City Arts is open until 10pm on show nights, during these events there is counter service and we are unable to take reservations. Due to the high volume of patrons entering for the show, we will be serving a special event menu. To find out more about our menu and dining hours, visit gatewaycityartsbistro.com or call (413) 650-0786.

Iris Dement
Iris Dement
It was by pure chance that Iris DeMent opened the book of Russian poetry sitting on her piano bench to Anna Akhmatova's "Like A White Stone." She'd never heard of the poet before, and didn't even consider herself much of a poetry buff, but a friend had leant her the anthology and it only seemed polite that she skim it enough to have something interesting to say when she returned it. As she read, though, a curious sensation swept over her.

"I didn't feel like I was alone anymore," remembers DeMent. "I felt as if somebody walked in the room and said to me, 'Set that to music.'"

So she did. The melody just poured out of her almost instantly. She turned the page and it happened again, and again after that, and before she even fully understood it, she was already deep into writing what would become 'The Trackless Woods,' an album which sets Akhmatova's poetry to music for the first time ever.

'The Trackless Woods,' DeMent's sixth studio album, is unlike anything else in her illustrious career. Beginning with her 1992 debut, 'Infamous Angel,' which was hailed as "an essential album of the 1990's" by Rolling Stone, DeMent released a series of stellar records that established her as "one of the finest singer-songwriters in America" according to The Guardian. The music earned her multiple Grammy nominations, as well as the respect of peers like John Prine, Steve Earle, and Emmylou Harris, who all invited her to collaborate. Merle Haggard dubbed her "the best singer I've ever heard" and asked her to join his touring band, and David Byrne and Natalie Merchant famously covered her "Let The Mystery Be" as a duet on MTV Unplugged. DeMent returned in 2012 with her most recent album, 'Sing The Delta,' which prompted NPR to call her "one of the great voices in contemporary popular music" and The Boston Globe to hail the collection as "a work of rare, unvarnished grace and power."

Meanwhile, behind the scenes, DeMent and her husband were raising their adopted Russian daughter in their Iowa City home. When she looked back on her own childhood, though, DeMent sometimes felt like there was some intangible element that hadn't quite clicked yet.

"Growing up, a lot of what I understood about my parents—and many of the adults in my life that were nurturing me—I understood through music," explains DeMent, who was born the youngest of 14 children in Arkansas and raised in southern California. "I remember noticing that people seem to be most their real selves when they were in the music. My dad would cry my mom would wave her arms around when they sang church music. So I figured out at some point that there was a breakdown there with my daughter. She was six when we adopted her, and there was a whole culture that had been translated to her in those critical years that I didn’t feel like I could get through to with the tools I had. So always in the back of my mind, I had this sense of wanting to figure out how to link her two worlds, Russian and American."

Akhmatova's poetry proved to be that link and more, as it drew DeMent into a remarkable journey through Russian political and artistic history.

"Her whole adult working life was marked by this constant struggle to do her work in the face of the Bolshevik Revolution, World War I, World War II, and Stalin," DeMent says of Akhmatova. "The estimates are that between 20-80 million people died during those 30 years he was in power. One of her husbands was executed, one died in the gulag, and her son was sent there twice just by virtue of being her son. She often lived in poverty and out of other people’s homes, never owned a place of her own. She wasn't some elevated star figure exempted from suffering, she was right there in it. All of her poetry came out of that."

Akhmatova's struggles weren't unique for her time in Russia, but her poetry still managed to find beauty in a world of pain and ugliness, which DeMent believes is what makes her so deeply loved by the Russian people.

"I think if you listen to her poems, you can hear all that sorrow and that burden in them," says DeMent, "but there's always a lightness, a transcendence somehow, a sense of victory over all that inhumanity that she was living with every day of her life."

It's only fitting, then, that the album opens with, "To My Poems," a short, four-line invocation recorded sparsely and simply with just DeMent's voice and piano as she sings: "You led me into the trackless woods, / My falling stars, my dark endeavor. / You were bitterness, lies, a bill of goods. / You weren’t a consolation--ever."

That stark pairing of piano and voice forms the heart and soul of all 18 tracks on the album, which were recorded live in DeMent's living room under the guidance of producer Richard Bennett and with a small backing band that drifts in and out of the arrangements. The music is firmly rooted in the American South, with timeless melodies that could easily be mistaken for long-forgotten hymnal entries or classic country tunes. "From An Airplane" rollicks with a honky-tonk vibe, while "Not With Deserters" is punctuated by a mournful slide guitar and rich harmonies, and "All Is Sold" ebbs and flows over lush pedal steel. That DeMent can make the work of a 20 th century Russian poet sound like Sunday morning on a cotton plantation is a testament to her versatility and depth as an artist.

"I learned from this project that I don’t have just one voice, I have lots of voices, and they're all connected somehow," says DeMent. "Something happened on this record because the music wasn’t tied to a place from my past or my family history, but it was linked to my daughter by way of her cultural history. I realized writing these songs that I'm linked in some way to another world, as well, and I can hear it in the music, in the way I sang and the choices I made."

DeMent is quick to credit Akhmatova (and the translators whose work formed the album's lyrics, Babette Deutsch and Lyn Coffin) for the album's beauty and magic.

"All of the poems, particularly Babette’s translations, just felt like songs to me from the get go," says DeMent. "The first four or five I did, the melodies came while I was reading them the first time. That still mystifies me. My gut sense is that they were songs, already. I think she wrote them that way, and Babette picked up on that. They

flowed like that. I don’t think there's any getting around that the music was already in the poems."

There's no getting around that the music is in DeMent, too. Twenty-three years after her debut, she's creating some of the most poignant music of her career, bridging two seemingly disparate worlds with every note.
Pieta Brown
Pieta Brown
It was in hotel rooms across the country that Pieta Brown wrote most of the songs on her gorgeous new album, 'Postcards.' Like any touring musician, she was on the road to survive, balancing the rewards of performing music for a living with the challenges of trying to stay connected to loved ones and other artists while in motion. So, when she was finally stationed at home, she decided to send out some postcards. These weren't just any postcards, though, these were musical postcards, the stripped-down, acoustic shells of new songs she'd written while traveling, and she sent them to folks like Mark Knopfler, Calexico, Mason Jennings, David Lindley, Carrie Rodriguez, Caitlin Canty, and The Pines among others. Her instructions to each were simple: write back.

“These Postcards are about connecting and openness,” explains Pieta. “But, one of the sparks for this project was talking to so many musicians who are dealing with the way the music business has been shape-shifting lately. From people with very successful careers to more underground indie artists just trying to pay the bills, everyone seems to be dealing with this sense of 'How do we do this?' and looking for their own answers. I was hoping through experimenting with musical collaborations to keep the conversation going."

What Pieta created is more than a conversation, though. It's a striking collection of portraits—sometimes sweet and tender, sometimes eerie and haunting—of characters facing loneliness and longing and loss with a stoic sense of dignity. Her airy vocals, with just a hint of a drawl from a childhood split between Alabama and Iowa, float above rich, earthy texture, fluidly merging grit and grace in what is undoubtedly her finest work to date.

Hailed as a "self-styled poetess, folk goddess and country waif" by the BBC, Pieta Brown first came to international attention with her 2002 self-titled debut. Pieta has since been recognized by NPR for her "moody, ethereal" songwriting, applauded by The Boston Globe for her "mercurial voice” and has continued to gain wide-spread critical attention for both her singing and songwriting with each release. Wall Street Journal, American Songwriter, and Amazon have all included her albums in year-end, ‘best-of’ picks. And along the way she has shared stages with everyone from Emmylou Harris and JJ Cale to Neko Case and Richard Thompson, in addition to performing at major festivals like Bonnaroo and Mountain Jam. But maybe even more importantly, to a fiercely independent artist like Pieta, she has received praise and support from many of her fellow artists and mentors - Justin Vernon, Iris Dement, Mark Knopfler, Amos Lee, producer Don Was, and film-maker Wim Wenders to name a few.

‘Postcards’ follows 2014's 'Paradise Outlaw,' which was recorded at Bon Iver's April Base studio with help from Justin Vernon (who recently described ‘Paradise Outlaw’ as “probably my favorite record ever made at our studio”), Amos Lee, and Pieta’s father, Grammy-nominated folk-singer, Greg Brown. But where 'Paradise Outlaw' celebrated the sound of a group of a musicians recording live in a room together, 'Postcards' explores the role of distance and isolation in collaboration. Pieta recorded the basic guitar and vocals for the album, some with frequent collaborator Bo Ramsey (Lucinda Williams, Charlie Parr) in the mix, at a small garage studio near her home before mailing out each track to friends to complete and send back.

"I found out about a garage studio that was only a mile down the railroad tracks from my garage rehearsal space,” says Pieta. "I went in one afternoon to just try recording a couple of my songs stripped down, and then the engineer told me he was going to tear down the studio and that it would only be open for a couple more months. So I dug in and recorded 8 mores songs over a few afternoons and then I figured I'd do what I always do when I feel like I don't know what to do, which is reach out to my friends."

The first friends were Arizona desert-noir rockers Calexico, pals who were happy to participate in the project. Pieta sent them the delicate, beautiful album opener "In The Light," a song she wrote in a Santa Monica hotel room. The band recorded drums and vibraphone at Albert Hall in Manchester, England, while on tour, and later sent bass and vocals to flesh it out further. On "Rosine," a song that came to Pieta in a dream about Bill Monroe, Bon Iver's Mike Lewis added breathy woodwinds, while Mason Jennings layered drums and bass and backing vocals onto the infectious "How Soon."

"Collaborating with other musicians and elevating a song beyond its outlines has become one of my favorite things about making music," says Pieta. "I'm interested in what other people can bring to a song, especially musicians I admire. Music is very magnetic. And I have been so drawn to and inspired by all the collaborators inside these Postcards.”

While Pieta purposely included minimal instructions with each musical postcard, she made careful production decisions in who she chose to share each track with. It was Mark Knopfler's distinct guitar she could imagine fleshing out "Street Tracker," for instance, so she sent him the song which he completed in London, but it was David Lindley's slide playing that she wished she could hear on "Take Me Home (Soldier's Prayer)”, and Pieta found herself pleasantly surprised when he took her up on her invitation to play on the song. Carrie Rodriguez contributed fiddle to the clawhammer banjo mystique of "Stopped My Horse," while A-lister, Chad Cromwell evoked a train's rumble with his drums on "Station Blues," and pedal steel wizard Eric Heywood joined Nashville's Caitlin Canty for the dreamy "On Your Way." Former Bob Dylan band member David Mansfield, who opened Pieta's eyes to the possibility of collaborating remotely when he contributed a part to 'Paradise Outlaw' from afar, returned for "Once Again," which was inspired by a Welsh myth about an ancient sunken forest. But one of the album’s most magical moments arrives with the closing track, "All The Roads," a shimmering tune featuring the Minneapolis-based band, The Pines in a hypnotic, ghostly blend of reverberating guitar swells and stunning harmonies.

That the album flows so cohesively is a testament to the mixing work of BJ Burton at April Base, to Bo Ramsey’s understated inside guitar work, and above all, to Pieta's vision as a musician and storyteller of the highest caliber. These are songs about searching for home, about the closeness we can feel with other humans despite all the time and distance that separates us. The players on the album span an age range of half a century, but true to Pieta's inspiration, the songs share a unified warmth and passion that comes from artists collaborating for the sake of the song and for the love of the music. The road may be long and full of nights in strange hotels with only a guitar for company, and the state of the music business may offer more questions than it does answers these days, but for Pieta Brown, it's all worthwhile if you can come home to find your mailbox full of postcards as heartfelt and as beautiful as these.
Venue Information:
Gateway City Arts
92 Race Street
Holyoke, MA, 01040
http://www.gatewaycityarts.com