Sunday, December 6, 2009

We Are Family: Pieta, Zoe, and Constie Brown

Pieta, Zoe, and Constie Brown: Ella Mae


Going Driftless, a Red House Records celebration of the songs of beloved label founder and folk musician Greg Brown, is hands-down one of my favorite tribute albums. The disc features a plethora of female voices I've grown to love - among them Lucy Kaplansky, Lucinda Williams, Iris Dement, Ani DiFranco, Shawn Colvin, and Eliza Gilkyson - and it makes for a great set, the songs soaring once loosened from the earthly bonds granted through Brown's deep basso voice and loose, ragged style.

But of all the covers on the album, there's no song so delicately, poignantly done as Ella Mae, an early rarity Greg Brown wrote in tribute to his father's mother, here performed by his three singer-songwriter daughters. Though it's the sibling trio that makes the song fit our theme, there are four generations of family here - subject, son, songwriter, and performers - lurking like ghosts in the performance, and the bittersweet ache of family heritage and missed opportunity is palpable in every measure.

Photo: Greg Brown, daughter Pieta, and singer-songwriter Bo Ramsey.

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