Eden Brent,
Ain't Got No Troubles
(Yellow Dog, 2010)

I count Eden Brent's Mississippi Number One, which I reviewed here on 3 May 2008, among my most treasured CDs. It's one of those discs I turn to whenever I'm seeking balm, enlightenment and joy. In the months after its release, it won plaudits and awards, and it deserved them all.

For her sophomore effort on the Memphis-based Yellow Dog, Brent traveled from her native Greenville, Mississippi, to New Orleans, where she secured the services of veteran Canadian roots-blues producer/musician Colin Linden. So this is a New Orleans, not just a Deep South, record, and Ain't Got No Troubles is more -- albeit not entirely -- r&b-focused than its predecessor. There is also more original material. The production is generally fatter, and while jazz and classic-pop elements are hardly absent, they're less prominent. Also missing are Brent's exhilarating interpretations of standards; last time out, it was the likes of "Careless Love," "The Man I Love" and "Why Don't You Do Right?"

If Troubles feels less novel, one ought not to blame Brent for refusing to repeat herself. Still, though I have high regard for Linden, not much in the way of production or arrangement surprises here. This is the straightforward, traditional New Orleans sound, after all, known to anybody who cares about American music. On the other hand, given the talents involved in its creation, it's a pretty good disc. It may not knock you over on first hearing if you've already been exposed to Brent, but you'll warm to it soon enough. My immediate sense of disappointment began to feel a tad churlish as Troubles' subtle strengths and strong songs worked their way inside my head.

Brent might be characterized as a champion of the South's urban roots, most of it African American in origin though she herself grew up in a well-to-do white family. As a vocalist in the genre she has few peers. Her singing, sophisticated yet grounded, drenched in blues and jazz inflections, is luxuriantly emotional without ever lapsing into excess. (Somewhere, somebody likened her to Janis Joplin. I can't think of less apt comparison. Brent does not shriek.) Eschewing cheap, crowd-pleasing vocal tricks, she hears a song as much as she sings it, as if the song were coming to her just as it is coming to us. It isn't really, of course, but the illusion that the song is a gift to both singer and sung-to is one only a great performer can conjure.

For a truly soulful artist, heart, brain and ear are in harmony and able to fashion an aura of blissful authenticity. Brent's uncomplicated lyrics are devoted to the elemental experiences -- romance, sex, betrayal, break-up, heartache and good times -- that are the stuff of both popular music and ordinary life. No politics, no larger meanings, no philosophical musings, in short, but still, big enough.

Troubles can be recommended to any discerning listener. I'd add, however, that if you haven't heard Brent before, you might first want to know what kicked off the excitement. Check out Mississippi Number One, and then keep it close. You never know when you might end up on a desert island.

music review by
Jerome Clark

13 November 2010

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