The words “ethereal” and “banjo” aren’t often used in the same sentence. But on this, Pieta Brown’s sixth release, banjo becomes a key element of the stripped down to almost nothing, atmospheric sound. Brown, the daughter of veteran folk singer Greg Brown (who guests on one track here), has always favored a less-is-more style and seems to have consciously pared the instrumentation back to wispy drums, murmuring banjo, softly strummed guitar and her distinctive, heavy-lidded caramel and cream vocals.
Recorded in four days with seemingly few overdubs at Justin Vernon’s (Bon Iver) studios, these 14 tracks flow seamlessly together, tied by not only Brown’s hypnotic singing, but husband/guitarist/co-producer Bo Ramsey’s sinuous, heavily reverbed, ever-present guitar leads. They underpin and propel these understated performances with subtle grace. The album’s name is borrowed from the title of a book of photographs and essays about “the Beats” and Brown explains how she shares a similar affiliation with these 60s writers and poets whose view of art was “unelitist, anti-hierarchical and egalitarian.” That may be a handful to absorb but the album that stems from those concepts is a lovely, thought provoking and dream enhancing experience.