Bosque Brown Baby

[Burnt Toast Vinyl; 2009]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: folk, alt-country, gospel, soul
Others: Gillian Welch, Emily Jane White, Zooey Deschanel

With her debut LP, 2005's Bosque Brown Plays Mara Lee Miller, Mara Lee Miller introduced us to every aspect of her adopted Denton, Texas persona. We were fooled into thinking what a lost treasure Mara Lee Miller must have been, as we fell under the lovely spell of Bosque Brown's country-tinged dirges of love, loss, and faith -- all under the guise that the latter was covering the music of the former. Bosque Brown and Mara Lee Miller turned out to be one; yet no matter how linked the personas, the personalities of both were separated into two but equal entities. Which song was Mara Lee Miller and which song was Bosque Brown -- that is to say, which was the performer and which was a part of the everyday person -- became a guessing game with each passing listen.

Now four years later, Miller has delivered a new variation of the game with Baby. There's no mistaking that Baby is all Bosque Brown. It's powerful and unrestrained, an album free to flow like the river that gives Miller her pseudonym. Yet, there are still hints of the woman behind the mask. Baby, for its fuller, richer sound, is just as shy and tender as Miller's first full-length foray. The pronounced difference is confidence, and the willingness to believe in herself translates to a stronger album -- not reliant on Miller's past heroes, but on the inspiration she draws from her daily life.

You needn't look further than the pictures that grace Baby's cardboard casing. Images of lifeless highways, fruitful ditches, lazy horses, and piercing mountains play up the notion of Miller as the road-weary veteran of hard livin' and harder choices. Nothing backs up these projections quite like "Went Walking." It speaks of a life lived on foot, whether it be the walk with family, with a wedding party, with throngs of cityfolk, or with oneself. The scenario is repeated through "Whiskey Flats" and "This Town." Miller captures her view and gives it to us, letting us see the world through her eyes.

It's the delivery of these visions, however, that takes the work of Mara Lee Miller to the next level, transforming Baby from handwritten love letter into breathtaking cinematic fare. Unlike her hushed debut, Miller digs deep into her soul to find the voice of Bosque Brown. It isn't solemn or desperate as her debut would have had us believe; it's one of hope and a fair bit of pomp. Rather than deliver an album's worth of Northeastern Texas hell, Miller lets go of her inhibitions, draping her hymns with life-affirming soul, gospel, and folk -- like Woody Guthrie singing the troubles of the Dust Bowl or Pete Seeger sounding the injustices of the Civil Rights Movement. Baby shows us that four years was just enough time for Miller to reconcile her modesty with her desire to showcase her love of all musics.

1. White Dove
2. Went Walking
3. So Loud
4. On and Off (Part 1)
5. Texas Sun
6. Whiskey Flats
7. On and Off (Part 2)
8. Train Song
9. This Town
10. On and Off (Part 3)
11. Oh River
12. Phone Call
13. Soft Love

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