A bright new talent breathes life into old-time country.
If the name Nora Brown isn’t familiar to readers of this esteemed website that probably isn’t surprising given the fact that Nora is just fifteen years old. Her new album ‘Sidetrack My Engine’ is not, remarkably, her first. The fact that her first offering sold out its vinyl pressing and debuted in the top ten on the Billboard Bluegrass Chart gives a hint at the regard with which this young artist is already held.
After ukulele lessons at the age of six Nora was introduced to, and fell in love with, traditional southern music. The fact that Nora is a resident of Brooklyn rather than, say, Alabama or Tennessee, makes that an even more remarkable feat. With influences drawn from a number of mentors it is perhaps the late John Cohen who best sums up what Nora, and indeed this new album is all about. “She sings” he says, “of experiences way beyond her years, old songs from Appalachian sources, stories that reflect a more difficult way of life.”
Listening to Brown on this brief album (the seven tracks add up to less than twenty minutes) it is hard to place the mature and affecting vocals as belonging to one so young. Brown uses her talents with guitar and banjo to great effect on the sparser tracks such as ‘The Very Day I’m Gone’ and ‘Wedding Dress’. The album was recorded in a stone cellar with historic arched ceiling and the depth that this environment has brought to the record is notable and sits perfectly with this old-time music.
Brown is joined on several tracks by Jackson Lynch and Jerron “Blindboy” Paxton who has, himself, been hailed as a hugely talented young acoustic bluesman. On these songs the tempo is raised and the additional instrumentation brings a bigger and more complex sound without ever straying from the album’s old-time mission statement.
The instantly recognisable ‘Frankie & Albert’ has been covered over the years by so many luminaries of the music world that another version probably isn’t high on anybody’s Christmas list but here Brown showcases her talent on the banjo and breathes new life into this old standard. And this, in a nutshell, sums up this short little glimpse into the new talent that is Nora Brown; interpreting old-time country with banjo, guitar and a voice that belies her youth.