As a part of Lydia Brownfield’s New Year’s resolution, she gave up pizza, so it was an odd bit of torture for the singer-songwriter when she headlined a show at Natalie’s Coal-Fired Pizza on a recent Tuesday.
The concert was the first of three scheduled Natalie’s showcases featuring artists on the newborn record label Mingo Town Music, which was started in November 2013 by musician John Joseph and features 11 largely Americana-leaning Columbus acts. Joseph launched the label, in part, to help foster a sense of community among local musicians, and monthly showcases at Natalie’s and The Shrunken Head (which begins Feb. 14) are designed to serve as a public introduction to its still-growing roster.
Supported by a three-piece band and a backing singer, Brownfield eased into a two-hour set that, on the surface at least, projected an unwavering sense of calm. Her pop-folk songs were generally mellow and pretty, steeped in three-part vocal harmonies, atmospheric keyboard and melodic acoustic strumming. Even the drums stepped lightly, often suggesting a beat rather than stomping through the mix with pachyderm authority.
Beneath this placid façade, however, Brownfield’s music often raged. Her lyrics referenced waves crashing on rocky beaches, toxic relationships and once-great romances now broken beyond repair. “This is a song about my second ex-husband,” she said introducing “You’re Lost.” “There’s one coming up I wrote about the first.”
Another song, “Poisoned Devil Soul,” dealt with her feelings about the music industry, packing in lyrics about broken promises, lies and corruption (“But I take it all back now,” she said, and laughed — a nod to Mingo Town’s more supporting environs). Even singing about poison, Brownfield sounded sweet as syrup, and there was a lingering sense even her blackest songs could have served as lullabies.
Sure, there were times stormier arrangements would have been welcome — “Hurricane,” for one, registered as more of a tropical storm — but there was something comforting about the way Brownfield could take even the most devastating subjects in stride. “Prentiss Song,” a sparkling folk ditty inspired by a close friendship, offered some insight into the way the singer counters these blows, touching on the numerous injustices, slights and holes a close ally can help one spackle over. It’s safe to say the same could be said of Brownfield’s music.
Photo by Andy Downing