The First Family of Folk

Pieta Brown said she gets so nervous when she opens for her dad that she can “barely talk.”

“It never goes away, that dad factor,” she told the Englert crowd, “specially when it’s that dad.”

And who can blame her? That Dad’s voice, guitar-playing and presence get more imposing with each passing year. Who other than the man’s own progeny would dare “prepare the way” for him?

If Pieta was nervous, it didn’t show. She turned in a shimmery set and was only occasionally upstaged by the loveable, lowdown showboating of other half Bo Ramsey on electric guitar and whispered harmonies.

The Englert provided the perfect sounding board for Pieta’s often elusive voice. It’s hard to think of another singer who so totally fuses vocal timbre and phrasing. So finely hiding one within the other is the musical equivalent of a person looking at your boots when they’re speaking to you, but it works.

Older songs dovetailed with new off her just-released One and All. The night’s theme of redemption bobbed to the surface on “Other Way Around”: “You got your fine shirt/I got a cheap cigar/You’re in the sunshine/I’m in a dirty bar….Someday, it will be the other way around…”

Pieta ended her stage-setting with a luminous version of “Remember the Sun,” dedicated to family “as crazy as we all may be.” (It sure sounded like she had a tremolo effect on her acoustic guitar, but maybe it was an Easter miracle.)

Greg opened things with a recitation featuring, “I who have died, am alive again today.” Make no mistake, nobody but Greg Brown could pull that off. Just as nobody but Greg Brown could make a brilliant career of fusing sage wisdom with abject sentimentality. Saturday night, a voice that has aged to sound half-Mephistopheles, half-Paul Robeson didn’t hurt either.

Greg Brown at Englert Theatre, Mission Creek 2010 (Photo by Matt Butler)

The carefully curated set was heavy on songs about giving way to the younger generation (“It’s Your Town Now” and “Tender Hearted Child” – note: not 100% sure about this title) and out-and-out dying (“How Black the Earth” and a nice cover of Richard Thompson’s “Dimming of the Day.”) Greg’s voice veered from spooky keening to disquieting death rattle, even on the funny woman’s falsetto line from a rocker that had Ramsey and bassist John Penner join the  man and remain for the rest of the show. Happily, the spring resurrection theme was never far off; “Spring Wind,” for example, was a breath of just that.

The night ended as it only could have: the entire family (daughters and wife Iris Dement) taking the stage for a beautiful, button-popping “Iowa Waltz” and “This Little Light of Mine.”

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