Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1089

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Feature

Chastity Brown: Brown Sugar

Chastity Brown @bluesandsoul.com
Chastity Brown @bluesandsoul.com Chastity Brown @bluesandsoul.com Chastity Brown @bluesandsoul.com

Chastity Brown drove for almost a day through the mountains, with a heavy heart. She had wanted to make this journey for over 20 years. She made her way to the grave side, clutching a bunch of pretty daisies, to set eyes on her late Fatherâs resting place for the very first time.

She lost her Daddy when she was seven. A black African-American blues and jazz musician. Her mother, a white Irishwoman. Singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Chastity (and yes; that is her birth name), will tell you that for much of her life she has felt âsplit down the middle of me,â which made her doubt the musical genre she was pursuing.

So this pilgrimage to the US country through those lonely mountains, to pay her respects to her Father, was a kind of healing process she needed to go through to find her true self. Add to that the drive to the little hick town where her fatherâs other children and relatives lived who she had never met before, and this was the moment Chastity Anne Brown found herself and her roots.

Her music changed from brash indie rock, to the soul and blues she was brought up on. On the return home from that grave, she penned the story of that emotion-filled day and eventually committed it to tape.

Never intending to let it go out to the mass public, luckily that wonderfully passionate and tender song âSolely,â is on her new CD âBack-Road Highways.â Her fourth album, but the first to get a UK release. Iâd say it is a real belter (can I get away with using that word next to her name?)

When I spoke to Chastity on the âphone as she sat in the garden of her Minnesota home, she told me she never thought anyone else could possibly understand the enormity of that monumental day.

âIâve spent the last five years of my life exploring my cultural heritage and family history. At times I felt a split down the middle of me that made me doubt the genre of music I was working in.â

âMy father is black, my mother is full bloodied Irish and white, and I grew up in the South, and now I am literally playing whatâs in my blood. I kind of distanced myself from soul music and folk, because that was my upbringing, but it wasnât until about five years ago that I really started honing in on what is my truest self. With my latest record; I feel like
I finally got there. Finally I accept my voice and the stories that come out of my writing.â

âWith Solely; the most personal song on the record, I never intended it to be on the album. I just had to record it. The chorus says it is solely for meâ¦Iâd had an experience I knew that the gravity of which, would only really matter to me.â
âI was half way through this album, and knew I had to go visit my fatherâs grave for the first time. He passed away when I was seven. I drove to North Carolina by myself. I then met my fatherâs family, who are all very country black folk, in a very small town. I had envisioned this moment my whole life and I was there, experiencing it alone.â

âIt is not a dramatic story, but is just very special to me. I knew no matter who I told about that experience, and about that drive through those mountains, and what itâs like driving down the road in the country and when you wave to everyone that you see, (country folks are like that,) only I would get it.â

30-year-old Chastity is a born story teller. When she told me of her visit to the grave, I could picture the whole thing in my mind and the emotion she must have felt. Her album is a gentle and passionate testimony to the truth. Her truth. The honesty of an artist who is still finding her way, but will not conform and be what others want her to be. In the same way Valerie June steers her own career and creative path.

She has had her struggles in the past. When she was 18, she signed on at a seminary college to study to become a worship leader in a full gospel Christian church. But she was kicked out immediately when the authorities discovered not only was she dating (forbidden at this place) but she was dating a woman. Her first same-sex relationship. But that traumatic event shaped her whole life and in her mind, put her where she is today.

âIt was really difficult. But it is the reason why I write songs today; that experienceâ¦as soon as I went home, that was when I first started writing songs of my own. I was so disappointed at how the situation turned out, and it was so to hard to deal with, but now I am so glad that happened.â Chastity has been in a solid relationship with her female partner for seven years.

She describes her music as âAmericana soul,â and worked on this album for just over a year. It started out as an EP, but her new label fancied a whole album when they heard her latest songs. She wrote all but one of the 11 tracks, and co-wrote âHouse Been Burninâ with her producer Paul Buono. He deserves special mention for the âless is moreâ approach to the production values, and the overall treatment puts me in mind of the genius that is T Bone Burnettâs work. The record was co-produced by Fred Cannon, who has worked with Prince and Stevie Wonder among many others.

A perfect blend of styles that takes in gospel, roots & soul (and lots if it), jazz, blues (and lots of it) and a smattering of country.

I was intrigued and wanted more of Ms Brownâs talents. I had all sorts of different artists flooding into my head too - Paul Simon, Eric Bibb, Keb Mo, Ry Cooder, Bill Withers, Curtis Mayfield, Hank Williams, Bukka White, Erykah Badu, Lianne La Havas and the risk taking aspect of Macy Gray. Joan Armatradingâs vocal phrasing too. Thereâs Nina Simone and Bonnie Raitt in there, and maybe a Van Morrison tip perhaps.

But most of all; I have not heard anyone like Chastity Anne Brown before. I am of the impression she is only scratching the surface of what she is capable of and what she is on her way to achieve.

We Brits get our chance to find out what she is made of when she is here in September for two weeks of shows. Chastity made her first ever overseas trip last autumn, with shows in Germany and four here, all sold out through word of mouth.

And thatâs the thing: There are singers, there are songwriters and there are musicians. Chastity Brown is an artist, and one who is about to stake her claim in the UK. She is very welcome.

Chastity Brown: âBack-Road Highwaysâ is out now. Her UK tour starts on 12th September at The Green Note in London and ends on 24th Sept in Basingstoke - taking in Exeter, Penryn, Launceston, St Ives, Leeds, Lanarkshire, Glasgow, Newcastle and Southport.

TO READ MORE FROM THIS INTERVIEW WITH CHASTITY BROWN CHECK OUT OUR PRINT ISSUE - CLICK BELOW OR VISIT YOUR LOCAL MAG OUTLET (inc: WH SMITH AND JOHN MENZIES)
Words SIMON REDLEY

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