Mississippi songwriter is getting ready to pack her bags to complete her 2020 tour after a “short” covid induced intermission.
As covid hit our shores back in 2020 and we were on the brink of lockdown, Mississippi’s Bronwynne Brent was touring the UK on the back of her recently released album ‘Undercover’. A two times winner of AUK’s Best Female Performer in our annual Readers’ Poll, Brent’s third album found her moving on from the folky trappings of her previous album ‘Stardust’ into more of a late-night groove with hints of jazz and blues. While both albums were well received it’s fair to say that much attention was paid to Brent’s voice with reviewers drawing comparisons with singers such as Karen Dalton and even Billie Holiday.
As you will have guessed, Brent’s 2020 tour was curtailed as, with the writing on the wall, she managed to get back to the States just before everyone was grounded. In April she comes back over to resume that tour. She’s about to record the follow-up album to ‘Undercover’ but it won’t be ready for the tour although she promises to have some surprises up her sleeve for the upcoming dates. AUK caught up with Bronwynne via a Zoom call just before she headed off to Memphis for her recording dates.
First off, we asked her about that aborted 2020 tour.
It seems like a lifetime ago. I can’t remember how many dates we played before the tour was stopped on I think March 16th. I don’t think we actually knew what was happening, I even thought that I could stay in Scotland and wait this thing out, little did I know. Instead I managed to get back home and basically sat it out here.
Whereabouts are you these days?
I’m on the gulf coast in a town called Bay St Louis about an hour from New Orleans. I’m originally from a central part of the state from a town called Greenville but I’ve been staying here for some years now.
Have you been playing much since the pandemic ran out of steam?
I was really proud to be invited to play at The Bitter End in New York, I don’t know how they found me but they got in touch and I played there. My sister’s a blues piano player in New York and she brought all her friends along so it was a pretty full house. I absolutely loved it. The guy who owns The Bitter End, Paul Rizzo, was talking to me after the show and I mentioned the New Orleans Jazz Festival and it turns out that he loves that festival so we kind of bonded over that.
I hear you’re going to Memphis soon to record a new album. Given that your last two albums were quite different in style what can we expect from a Memphis session?
I’ve got a gig coming up for a radio show in Oxford Mississippi, it’s called Thacker Mountain Radio and it’s not far from Memphis and I’d been wanting to record there for a while. I’m still writing the songs but I really have no idea of what’s going to happen. Sometimes I have an idea of what I want a song to sound like but when you get into the studio something totally different happens, so I guess I just need to trust in the universe that it’s all going to work out. One thing I know is that I’ve wanted to redo my song ‘Raincoat’. When I recorded it previously it was real stripped back and I want to get some backing singers on it. I don’t know if I want to do it gospel style or with a boy’s choir or something, I really don’t know and I have to try and get some arrangement together before I travel there.
Then after that you are heading to the UK. Who will you be playing with and will you be promoting ‘Undercover’ as it didn’t get much of a chance when it first came out.
I’ve got Mario Caribe on upright bass and Graham Steven on guitar, both of them are based in Scotland. They’re both jazz players and I find that jazz musicians can read music and pick up on my songs really quickly. I’ve played with both of them before so that helps and I always think it’s good to play with musicians who are better than you. As for what we’ll be playing, well, I’ve only got three albums to pick from so there’s not a huge selection and yes, there’ll be new songs but right now I haven’t decided what to be playing. I do like to try something different on each tour, like, back in 2020 we did some bossa nova songs as Mario is originally from Brazil.
When I saw you play at Celtic Connections back in 2015 you mentioned on stage that you were really nervous and when you last spoke to AUK you said you suffer from stage fright. Is that still an issue with you or has it settled over the years?
Not really, I still get anxious before a show. Like, when I played The Bitter End I was so nervous I couldn’t sleep the days before, I was really running on anxiety. But, generally I find that after a few songs there is a certain comfort level that happens. It does depend a bit on the audience and the vibe, if you make a connection it helps.
It must help to make a connection to have fans over here such as Bob Harris and to have won awards from the likes of AUK. Would you say that you are better known over here than in the States?
I hate to say this but I’m not really assertive in pushing my career over here. I don’t have a booking agent here so I rely on people reaching out to me, like with The Bitter End. Also, I don’t have a band so anytime I play I have to hire musicians and I don’t really make enough money to be able to do that too often. I think that the best way to get noticed is to tour and the USA is so big that I’m just a regional artist over here. I’ve only done two small tours, on my own, on the east coast and then the west coast. But, on the streaming services you can see where people who are listening to you are from so I’ve people up in Canada, quite a few in Seattle and in New York. But I definitely think I’m better known over in the UK. Also, I love playing in the UK. I love the people and I love that nothing’s really far away. You can go just a short distance from a village or town to another one and everything’s different, the people, the way they talk. And I also love that the audiences listen. Here in Mississippi when you play it’s kind of a social event and people are talking and drinking. I saw Taj Mahal play recently in Jackson and everyone was talking, it was the rudest thing and I was just embarrassed. Maybe you have places like that in the UK but I haven’t played any. I also love castles and old architecture and the countryside is beautiful, especially in Scotland. So I’m really looking forward to coming back and I just hope that the people who didn’t get to see me on the last tour come along after a three year break.
Can I ask you about some of the comparisons people have made regarding your voice. When I heard Stardust I was reminded of Karen Dalton and others have mentioned Billie Holiday.
I really loved Karen Dalton’s singing on ‘Katie Cruel’ and I did a version of that for the BBC when we were in Scotland. I feel terribly sad about her life and that she never really made it due to drug problems. I think she was much more talented than many of the other folk singers from Greenwich Village. But I’ve never thought my voice sounded like her. As for Billie Holiday, that makes me terribly uncomfortable. I mean I would much rather be compared to Karen Dalton or to someone more contemporary as opposed to a legend like her. It’s hard for me to take the compliment and it’s stretching it a bit too far.
You grew up in a musical family, what were you listening to as you grew up?
My mom was a jazz singer before she met my dad, my sister Jessica plays folk and country and lives in Nashville and my other sister Eden plays blues and boogie-woogie piano and she’s a real entertainer, so we always had music around the house. I started off listening to Joni Mitchell and Neil Young and then went on to listen to R’n’B, Al Green, Bobby Womack, Esther Phillips and Sister Rosetta Tharpe, I don’t know if they were influences but that was the music I liked as I grew up but I also love going to see the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra play in New Orleans, that’s one of my favourite things to do so musically I’m a bit all over the place.
2023 Tour Dates:
Sun, April 16: The Live Room Caroline Club, Saltaire
Tues Apr 18: Cubley Hall, Hotel, Penistone, S. Yorks
Wed Apr 19: Green Note, Camden
Thurs Apr 20: Fishery Wharf Café, Boxmoor
Fri Apr 21: Pump House, Louth, Lincs
Sat Apr 22: Café #9, Sheffield
Sun Apr 23: Whitstable Sessions, Kent
Tues Apr 25: Kitchen Garden Café, King’s Heath, Birmingham
Thurs Apr 27: The Glad Café, Glasgow
Fri Apr 28: MacArts, Galashiels
Sat Apr 29: Performing Arts Centre, Kilbarchan
Sun Apr 30: The Bungalow, Paisley
Mon, May 1: Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh