Bronwynne Brent,
(independent, 2014)

Dulcie Taylor & Friends,
Only Worn One Time
(Mesa/Bluemoon, 2014)

Bronwynne Brent hails from a musical Mississippi family. Her sister -- I am assuming an older one -- is Eden Brent, whose CDs I have reviewed in this space (3 May 2008 and 13 November 2010). The latter, a piano player, deals in sophisticated jazz, r&b and classic pop, while Bronwynne is an acoustic guitarist and singer-songwriter in a vein often called, and often not accurately, "folk." In fact, only one song here seems derived from the folk tradition, the powerful "Dark Highway." Possibly because my tastes lean that way, it's my favorite cut. Or maybe because it is a really fine song by any definition.

Stardust consists of a dozen self-penned numbers, most of a pretty gloomy bent. Long experience has taught us listeners to presume these sorts of things are autobiographical and cathartic, conceived as responses to life's all-but-inescapable romantic break-ups. The trick, of course, is not to turn the songs so personal that the emotions defy effective communication to us who don't want to be mere bystanders; we want to feel something, too, if only a decent song from a safe distance. The present album benefits from Brent's unique voice, far from the standard soprano, and her undoubted talent for plaintive melody within a genre that has traveled many miles since Joni Mitchell invented it half a century ago.

Also to be praised is Johnny Sangster's restrained production, which keeps voice and guitar up front, as they ought to be, and other instruments rising to the surface only when called for. I have listened to this CD more often than I have to most of the competition, which is never in short supply. I do hope, however, that next time around Brent expands her composer's imagination outside the constricted arena of relationship songs.

The older, more experienced Dulcie Taylor writes distinctively intelligent, grown-up songs. Only Worn One Time features more fully produced arrangements than the generally skeletal Stardust. Stylistically, these songs are wider ranging and thematically more creative, too. All testify to Taylor's thorough-going professionalism. The variety in approach pushes each song forward to stand out on its own, which ensures that the album as a whole does not recede into lulling background noise. Though Taylor has her own place here, if you want to know the broad territory it's the one occupied by the likes of, among others, Eliza Gilkyson, Nanci Griffith and the 1970s Linda Ronstadt.

One forms the impression that Taylor is writing for radio play -- if not for herself, for other pop, soft-rock and country artists who may wish to cover her songs -- while maintaining her sense of artistic integrity. Nothing wrong with that. After all, who doesn't want to hear a smart, tuneful song on the radio?

Only Worn probably won't change your life, but its pleasures, if in most instances familiar ones, are certainly real enough.

music review by
Jerome Clark

23 August 2014

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