For Pieta Brown, Music Is A Father-Daughter Dance As a child, Brown had to connect with her folk singer dad, Greg Brown, from a distance. Now, as adults and peers, their musical lives are intertwined.

For Pieta Brown, Music Is A Father-Daughter Dance

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ERIC WESTERVELT, HOST:

Let's turn now to a family with music in their blood. Pieta Brown is an American artist. Her father is Greg Brown, a beloved folksinger and songwriter. Pieta spent her childhood bouncing between her divorced parents in the Midwest and the South. As an adult, she traveled some more but rather than pursuing her music career from, say, Nashville, Pieta settled in Iowa. Why? Her dad lives there. Iowa Public Radio's Clay Masters has their story.

CLAY MASTERS, BYLINE: Songwriting and music might get handed down through generations; navigating the music business - not so much.

PIETA BROWN: I didn't get any kind of business smarts, really.

GREG BROWN: I didn't have any to give her (laughter).

P. BROWN: So, you know, I've definitely been winging it.

MASTERS: Pieta Brown and her father, Greg, have shared the musical part of their lives since she was a little girl living with her mom in Alabama.

P. BROWN: I would make my dad little tapes and I'd record, you know, whatever song was on the radio. I was really into the kind of R&B thing that was on the radio in Birmingham in the '80s. You know, like Ashford and Simpson or Lionel Richie or whatever it was. And I had a super strong southern accent and I can remember making my dad these little tapes. I'd be like hey, daddy, I miss you so much.

G. BROWN: (Laughter) That's true.

P. BROWN: But I love this song that's on the radio right now and here's a little song I made up on the piano. And it was a connection for me.

MASTERS: Some of her old songs - maybe not that old - make their way onto her most recent record because she'd stumbled onto some old lyric sheets and thought maybe the words weren't too bad.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PAINTER'S HANDS")

P. BROWN: (Singing) If I could do this for you I would. I would raise this country to your lips and give you painter’s hands

MASTERS: Pieta Brown's dad, Greg, didn't know his daughter was serious about songwriting for years. Then one day she was visiting him and he remembers hearing a sound coming from the dining room.

G. BROWN: Out of one ear I heard a guitar and a voice and I was doing whatever I was doing. And I remember walking out to the dining room and saying oh, my God, Pieta, 'cause I didn't know at that point she was writing songs. And it was a real good song.

(SOUNDBITE OF PIETA BROWN SONG)

P. BROWN: (Singing) Rest your head babe. Can you close your eyes? Rest your head babe. It's funny how time flies. It's funny how time flies.

MASTERS: She bounced around the country, but eventually felt something pulling her to Iowa.

P. BROWN: I've had so many people ask me, like, you moved back to Iowa to try to make a career in the music business? I said no, I didn't move back to Iowa to make a career, but I moved back to Iowa to be close to the music.

G. BROWN: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

P. BROWN: My mom worked anywhere between, I don't know, maybe 70 to 100 hours a week.

MASTERS: You can hear the impact of family and place in her music. She even talked about it on stage at a recent show in downtown Des Moines.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

P. BROWN: So I always think of my mom when I sing this song. And I wrote it one day - we were heading south, actually, from Iowa. And we'd just crossed over into Missouri. And all of a sudden there's all those huge cement warehouses full of fireworks.

(LAUGHTER)

P. BROWN: You guys know that road. And I looked over and we just crossed the river and it just said cheap smokes, fireworks, whiskey and worms.

(LAUGHTER)

P. BROWN: So there's a song.

(LAUGHTER)

P. BROWN: So I'd like to send this song out in loving honor of my mother and all the other mothers out there. Thank you. (Singing) Little Rosewood casket and an empty kiss. I didn't picture days like this. My mama told me when I was young hold your head up high. Don't waiting on anyone.

MASTERS: Pieta Brown was born in Iowa. She says she lived in at least 17 different places during her childhood. And her dad can relate. Before she was born, Greg lived in New York, LA and eventually in Minneapolis, where he was a regular on "A Prairie Home Companion." Iowa drew him back too and he wrote about homecoming on his 1981 album "The Iowa Waltz."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OUT IN THE COUNTRY")

G. BROWN: (Singing) Out in the country, gravel road a-ramble all around. Out in the country, gravel road a-ramble all around. And the dust blew up till the cool rain tumble down.

MASTERS: Greg Brown lives in Iowa City with his third wife, fellow folk musician Iris DeMent. He's now in his 60s and is fading out of the music picture. He's touring a lot less, putting out fewer records, but the albums he does put out, he says, are very much influenced by where he is.

G. BROWN: I do think where you are is going to get into the beat and the rhythm of what you do. You're going to write different novels or songs or whatever if you're living in Manhattan, New York, than you are if you're living in Manhattan, Kansas, I think.

MASTERS: Greg Brown and his daughter, Pieta, have started touring and playing together. You can hear his guitar on her latest.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NO NOT ME")

P. BROWN: (Singing) If heaven's like this, well, it's OK with me, where the living is fine and the living is free

MASTERS: Pieta Brown says there's a comfort in sharing a career with a parent.

P. BROWN: I know there's somebody out there who knows what I'm going through right now or, you know, the hard things and the good things, not just the tough parts, but also the joy in it, like, there's absolutely no words needed. And we don't really talk about that stuff hardly ever.

MASTERS: They don't have to talk. It's in the music.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LETTER IN HAND")

P. BROWN: (Singing) I have a letter in my hand. I have a letter in my hand.

MASTERS: For NPR News, I'm Clay Masters.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LETTER IN HAND")

P. BROWN: (Singing) All the way from Washington, will we lose what we have won? I have a letter in my hand. See that circle in the sand. See that circle in the sand. I was angry with my friends.

WESTERVELT: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Eric Westervelt.

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