Chastity triumphs after returning to her roots
Spellbinding young US singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Chastity Brown (pictured) will confirm what a gifted artist she is when she plays a string of small dates around the Westcountry this month.
Chastity plays banjo, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, harmonica, piano and percussion on her highly acclaimed album Back-Road Highways – her first UK release, co-produced in Nashville by Fred Cannon (Prince, Queen and Stevie Wonder). She can also play piano and saxophone. Yet she spent most of her life feeling "split down the middle" and confused about her musical direction.
Her mother came from a large Irish family in Boston, and her father was an African American jazz and blues musician; Chastity was born in the north-easterly state of New Hampshire, and moved down to Union City Tennessee when she was seven and her father died.
Growing up near Memphis, she was influenced by roots music from an early age. But she struggled with this influence as she was not exposed to many soul musicians writing folk music. Full gospel church was where Chastity found her voice and passion, but she was looking for something else.
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"Learning about Leadbelly's influence on Woody Guthrie opened up a whole new world to me," she explains. "Prior to this knowledge I felt alone in the music I was creating. I did not know how to reconcile my storytelling impulse with my soul-inflected vocal upbringing."
During the writing of the album Chastity made a long-desired pilgrimage to her father's grave for the very first time. It was an emotional journey to the little country, hick town where her father's other children and relatives still lived – people she had never met before.
It was this trip that altered her music from indie rock to the blues and soul she was brought up on, and it makes a neat fit. Chastity now channels songs that are born in the hunger, desperation and confidence of modern times, conjuring them in a voice that is sweet as molasses, with a hint of woodsmoke, and it's brought her some prestigious attention.
Her track After You was recently featured in the BBC/HBO film Mary & Martha starring Hilary Swank, and she's had many four and five star reviews for the album.
She made her first overseas trip last autumn, with a couple of shows in Germany and four in the UK, which all sold out and she has recently toured and dueted with rising British star Michael Kiwanuka.
Chastity Brown plays at The Globe Hotel,Topsham, near Exeter on Friday, September 13; Miss Peapods, Penryn on Saturday, September 14; No 8 Cafe – Launceston on Sunday, September 15 and the Western Hotel, St Ives, on Monday, September 16, as part of St Ives Festival.