Erica Brown is more than a pretty girl with a fiddle

Bluegrass connections
By SAM PFEIFLE  |  July 6, 2011


Just hitting the backside of her mid-twenties and already coming up on two decades into her career as a fiddle/violin player and singer here in Maine and beyond, Erica Brown is one of the youngest true veterans on the circuit you're likely to find. Whether she's playing Monday nights at the Empire with the Stowaways, or with her band Bluegrass Connection, or one of her many solo gigs, Brown graces the stage with a maturity and stolidity that more than belie her age.

Heck, this weekend she'll be releasing her fifth full-length album, From Now On.

Sometimes you've got to wonder, though, whether this has all meant too much growing up, too fast. She can sing and perform like the weight of the world is on her shoulders, like she's seen it all and is already feeling world-weary. This makes for powerful music, but there's a part of me that feels like someone so young should be having a whole lot more fun and letting us get a peek at what's behind that terrific bow work.

On this new record, Brown displays an impressive reverence for the women of bluegrass and country past, and pretty great taste. More than anything else, she seems invested in the history of the music and the community that bluegrass creates and cultivates. I love the choice, for example, to record Hazel Dickens's "Won't You Come and Sing for Me," since the bluegrass pioneer just died in April, and she really was one of the first frontwomen of the genre, recording with Alice Gerrard in the '60s.

Brown does the song with just a bit of pace, harmonizing with fellow Stowaway Matt Shipman, who handles all of the back-up singing duties here, along with picking a fine guitar lead on more than one track. He even takes a lead turn on "I Don't Believe You've Met My Baby," where he and Brown move into duet on a song written by Autry Inman, but recorded by the likes of Dolly Parton and Alison Krauss. Brown and Shipman both have a resonant breathiness to their delivery here, before Brown arches up into the harmony for the chorus.

Brown also tackles the Krauss-popularized "Too Late to Cry," which opens with a terrific banjo take by Read McNamara before Brown enters. I don't think Brown's voice has quite the tone her fiddle-playing has (the latter is exquisite), and it's a tough task for anyone to take on Krauss, which is why I think it's a little strange that this version is so faithful to Krauss's.

In fact, whether she's recording songs popularized by Emmylou Harris ("Roses in the Snow," the title track off her 1980 album), or Pam Tillis (the very-country "Blue Rose Is"), or Janet Beazley of Chris Stuart and Backcountry (this album's title track), Brown is just about always faithful to the original delivery, if not the exact arrangement. The result is a lot of great songs artfully done, but at least some question from this reviewer as to just what Brown will eventually take for her own signature sound.

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