Eden Brent: Carefree Blues With Mississippi Flavor The pianist, singer and songwriter has enjoyed a thorough music education. As a teenager, she began an apprenticeship with Delta piano player Abie "Boogaloo" Ames -- a partnership that lasted 16 years -- and later went on to study music theory in college. Now, at 44, Brent is releasing a new album titled Ain't Got No Troubles.

Eden Brent: Carefree Blues With Mississippi Flavor

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(Soundbite of music)

SCOTT SIMON, host:

No less an authority than NPR Music's Song of the Day has said of Eden Brent's music: The recording sounds as if it were bootlegged in an obscure juke joint in the 1920s. And then there's that sultry, smoky voice.

(Soundbite of song, "Let's Boogie-Woogie")

Ms. EDEN BRENT (Singer): (Singing) Let's boogie-woogie. Let's boogie-woogie. Let's boogie-woogie. Come on boys, let's play. Whoa, let's boogie-woogie, boogie 'til the break of day.

SIMON: Eden Brent is from Greenville, Mississippi. She's the great-granddaughter of a legendary towboat captain. As a teenager, she began an apprenticeship with the great Delta piano player Abie "Boogaloo" Ames. It turned into a partnership lasting 16 years. In May, Miss Brent was presented a Blues Music Award for Pinetop Perkins Piano Player of the Year.

Eden Brent has a new CD out on Yellow Dog Records. It's called "Ain't Got No Troubles." She joins us now from New York.

Thanks so much for being with us.

Ms. BRENT: Oh, I'm so delighted to be here with you.

SIMON: Now, did you get that, I think we called it a smoky, sultry voice - let me guess - from eating a lot of celery with cream cheese?

Ms. BRENT: I think it's turnip greens, collard greens, corn bread, black-eyed peas and fried chicken.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: All right. All fits together. Now, you recorded this album in New Orleans, right?

Ms. BRENT: I did. I did. You know, I grew up on the Mississippi River, and I've recorded before in Memphis, Tennessee, which is just upriver. And for this project, I just kind of wanted to get out of my element a little, and so I went downstream this time and wound up in New Orleans. And it made it different and fresh and put me out of my element, and I really, really enjoyed it.

SIMON: That's interesting, because a lot of people keep going back to the same old places to record, and it sounds like you like to take on different places.

Ms. BRENT: Well, I havent considered myself - throughout my career, I've not considered myself a recording artist - you know, more of a live entertainer. And so since I have not recorded dozens of records, there's nothing in particular expected of me. So every new recording project can be kind of a new adventure, and I can take it on as something brand new and to delight myself again, you know.

SIMON: Well, let's listen to the title track, if we could, "Ain't Got No Troubles."

Ms. BRENT: Sure.

(Soundbite of song, "Ain't Got No Troubles")

Ms. BRENT: (Singing) I ain't got no money, I ain't got a dime. No nickels I can rub, no pennies I can find. But I dont want for nothing, my taste ain't too refined. No, I ain't got no troubles on my mind.

SIMON: A lot of happiness in this song for someone who, forgive me, ain't got nothing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BRENT: Well, it is that juxtaposition. It is that - the whole feeling about New Orleans, where there's loads of sadness but also loads of joy. And the blues is that way to me. And I think the song reflects that in a kind of fun way, makes light of a rather unhappy subject and thus, the subject becomes not so unhappy after all.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of song, "Ain't Got No Troubles")

Ms. BRENT: (Singing) No, I ain't got no troubles on my mind.

SIMON: Tell us about your partnership with Boogaloo Ames - would be an unlikely duo in many minds.

Mr. BERLIN: Yes, it would. You know, he was an older, African-American man. I was a younger, white woman. I was from a more affluent family, and he was sort of from the other side of the tracks. While to look at us, we seemed opposites - and yet music forged this beautiful partnership that lasted until the end of his life. In fact, it lasts to this day.

SIMON: Without pushing it, is there some lesson for life in that friendship?

Ms. BRENT: Probably that everybody should play at least one instrument.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: It's a good, practical lesson. I like that.

Ms. BRENT: Well, yeah. Well, you know, music does bring people together in a way that sometimes, conversation can't.

SIMON: Hmm. Youre a classically trained pianist.

Ms. BRENT: I took piano lessons from the time that I was 5 years old. And then probably because my grade-school piano teacher told me that she didnt think that I was dedicated enough to get a degree in music, probably for that very reason, I attended the University of North Texas, which is a very celebrated music school, and finally got my degree in music theory there.

And what's so great about it is that the academic education that I achieved, and the practical education from Boogaloo, worked so brilliantly together. It is so clear to me, in retrospect, that one without the other would not nearly have been as effective.

SIMON: And what put you in juke joints instead of the Salzburg Music Festival?

Ms. BRENT: The truth of the matter is that Rachmaninoff requires a discipline that I dont subject myself to. And boogie-woogie and blues, while they require a certain kind of discipline, its not as strict.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BRENT: And I think I enjoy that bit a little more than I would. I'm not disciplined enough to conquer the most difficult Beethoven or Franz Liszt or -I mean, for instance, I make a lot of mistakes and I mean, there's even mistakes on this new record. And every time I hear them, I'm delighted.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BRENT: There's something lackadaisical about it, more carefree. And it's the freedom, I think, that I enjoy - not having to be married to the score on the page.

SIMON: Let's listen to a little bit of another one of your songs, "In Love With Your Wallet."

(Soundbite of song, "In Love With Your Wallet")

Ms. BRENT: (Singing) See you with that young thing all over town. Even debt, but you're already down. Hey, daddy, oh, daddy, can't you see? She's in love with your wallet, not your personality.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: This is a fun song.

Ms. BRENT: It is fun. Well, you know, often, men are looking for a beautiful woman, and women are looking for a rich man. That's sort of what this song is about.

SIMON: Dont mothers say you can love a rich man as well as you can - as much as you can love a poor one?

Ms. BRENT: I reckon they do, and I reckon they also say that their son can marry a pretty girl as soon as he can marry a plain-looking one.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: You write most of your own material?

Ms. BRENT: I'm not a prolific writer. There's so many good songs that I'm still discovering from 80 years ago, even. But I do enjoy writing some. But sometimes, I find that its just as easy to express myself as completely with someone else's song. You know, often I've referred to myself as a song interpreter. But, you know, I dont like to rehash something that somebody else has done. I dont generally like to do a tune like someone else did it. You know, the joy in it, to me, is to revel in what they have accomplished with their own tune, and then to try to make it mine and new and fresh again.

(Soundbite of song, "Leave Me Alone")

SIMON: I want to listen to a little bit of another one of your songs. And this is a departure from some of the others weve heard. This is the ballad "Leave Me Alone."

(Soundbite of song, "Leave Me Alone")

Ms. BRENT: (Singing) I can't remember the last time you smiled. We haven't made love in such a long, long while. If it's over, we'd better move on. Will you leave me, leave me alone.

SIMON: It's a very affecting song.

Ms. BRENT: I cry sometimes when I sing it. That's a true story.

SIMON: I mean, it is one of the oldest philosophical debates about the blues. Okay, if you got to suffer if youre going to sing the blues, how much do you have to suffer?

Ms. BRENT: You dont have to suffer a lot, just repeatedly.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Over and over again, you mean?

Ms. BRENT: Right. Yeah.

SIMON: So its not a question of the depth of your suffering, so much as just keep it consistent suffering.

Ms. BRENT: Exactly.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Well, thanks so much for speaking with us.

Ms. BRENT: Oh, thank you so much for having me. It's been a real it's been a real joy to be with you. Thanks.

(Soundbite of song)

Ms. BRENT: (Singing) Blues in the cupboard, on a shelf by the gin, drinking all by myself because he did not come home again. Got the blues all over.

SIMON: Eden Brent in New York. Her new CD, on Yellow Dog Records, is "Ain't Got No Troubles." It'll be available starting September 7th. You can hear more from the album on our website, nprmusic.org.

(Soundbite of song)

Ms. BRENT: (Singing) Blues all over me...

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