Like many musicians who spend a decent amount of time on the road, Americana songstress Pieta Brown found it difficult to stay connected with her loved ones while actively touring. So when she returned home, she decided to put a unique spin on staying in touch. Brown sent a series of musical postcards—stripped-down, acoustic shells of song she’d written while traveling—to her friends and mentors with a simple message: Complete the song and send it back.
The result is her new album Postcards (Lustre Records), in which each of the ten tracks features a special guest, including Mark Knopfler, Calexico, Carrie Rodriguez, Mason Jennings, David Lindley, Mike Lewis (saxophonist for Bon Iver), the Pines, and others. Brown recorded the basic acoustic guitar and vocals for the album, some with frequent collaborator and guitarist/producer Bo Ramsey in the mix, at a small garage studio before mailing out each track for friends to finish.
“This Postcards project was done at a time when I was struggling with some of the limitations I was feeling as an independent artist, and mother, living in Iowa,” Brown says. “So, these collaborations that ended up happening surprised and inspired and touched me. And they also opened up my mind to new ways of experimenting with recording and collaborating.”
Pieta Brown created stripped-down acoustic songs on the road and asked musician friends to help complete them.
Brown, whose father is acclaimed folk musician Greg Brown and whose stepmom is the venerate singer-songwriter Iris DeMent, grew up splitting her time between Iowa and Alabama after her parents’ divorce, and says the long-distances played a role in fostering the importance of connection. “Isolation and distance were major influences on me as a child. And remain fixations for me—artistically, and otherwise. And it’s wild how the internet keeps weaving them into our lives in whole new ways,” says Brown.
Highlights of the album include Knopfler’s distinctive guitar on “Street Tracker”; Lindley’s plaintive slide playing on “Take Me Home (Soldier’s Prayer)”; Rodriguez’s high-lonesome fiddle and clawhammer banjo on “Stopped My Horse”; and the ethereal, ghostly swells of reverberating guitar from the Minneapolis-based band, the Pines, on the closing track, “All The Roads.”
Brown says acoustic guitar played a “major role” in creating these musical snapshots. “I received a beautiful Martin HD-35 as a gift from a friend a few years ago. I’m addicted to it. And it’s full of songs. Most of the songs on Postcards came from that guitar.”
This article originally appeared in the May 2017 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.