Greenville, Mississippi, lies on the Mississippi River, roughly 150 miles south of Memphis and roughly 300 miles north of New Orleans. Fittingly, the music of Greenville native Eden Brent reflects the influence of these two bookend metropolises, mixing the grit and soul of Memphis and the Delta with a large dose of Crescent City swing.
"The three largest towns in Mississippi are Mobile, Alabama; New Orleans, Louisiana; and the capital of Mississippi, Memphis, Tennessee," Brent says with a laugh. "Memphis is closer [than New Orleans], but I feel a kinship with both, naturally. I feel a kinship with anyone along the river."
A charismatic whiskey-and-honey vocalist and a barrelhouse piano player who studied for many years under the tutelage of the late Greenville mainstay Abie "Boogaloo" Ames, Brent has emerged as one of the blues scene's most promising artists over the past half-decade.
"I couldn't play, and I wanted to," Brent says of approaching Ames as a young woman. "It took me awhile to get the guts to ask him to teach me. Man, did he color my world and touch my life. Every note I play is touched by my moments with him."
Ames passed away in 2002, and Brent began her ascent soon after, winning the acoustic portion of the Blues Foundation's International Blues Challenge on Beale Street in 2006.
She was soon signed to the Memphis-based Yellow Dog Records, a versatile roots-music label with a reputation for quality that is operated by Memphis native Michael Powers, a former member of the local jug band Bluff City Backsliders. ("He's a wonderful guy, and his heart is so in it. From the moment we met, I trusted him implicitly," Brent says of Powers.)
Brent's 2008 Yellow Dog debut, Mississippi Number One, was recorded locally at Sounds Unreal Studio, under the direction of producer/engineer Dawn Hopkins.
"Dawn produces in a way that lets you be who you are and does it in a way that takes all the weight and pressure off you," Brent says. "She's a wonderful sound engineer."
That album went on to win Brent the Best Acoustic Album and Best Acoustic Artist awards at the Blues Music Awards (BMAs) in 2009. She followed those wins up earlier this year with the BMAs' Pinetop Perkins Award for best blues pianist. And chances are Brent will be well represented at the BMAs again next year, because her second Yellow Dog Records album, the recent Ain't Got No Troubles, continues her ascent.
Her best yet, Ain't Got No Troubles showcases the jaunty piano playing, juicy vocal phrasing, and assured songwriting that make her one of the genre's most significant multi-threat talents.
After recording her label debut in Memphis, it made sense for Brent to record the follow-up in the other city that drives her music, setting up at Piety Street Studios in New Orleans with producer Colin Linden.
"I wanted to do something different," Brent says. "Dawn had done such a great job on the last one, I thought, gosh, how can I go back to Memphis and outdo that? I better not try. So I went a little further south. I wanted to stay on the river. I guess next time I'll have to go to St. Louis. I think we did something fresh, but it still sounds like me."
If Brent's new record is more redolent of New Orleans than Memphis, she still has Memphis on her mind. Rejecting the idea that her style of piano-based blues is more associated with New Orleans than Memphis, Brent exclaims, "What about Di Anne Price?"
"Let me tell you something, that woman is my hero," Brent says about Price, a longtime fixture of Memphis restaurants and blues bars who might be the city's truest hidden local music gem.
"If I could be mentored by anybody else besides Boogaloo Ames, it would be Di Anne Price. I adore her. A friend in Memphis gave me her CD, and then I went to see her live, and I became mad about her. In the whole world — forget about Memphis — there aren't many piano players who can outplay her. If I ever grow up, I want to be Di Anne Price."
Brent also claims to be watching the fortunes of Cyndi Lauper's recently Grammy-nominated Memphis Blues, produced locally by Scott Bomar.
"I'm voting for it," Brent says. "If that damn thing doesn't win, I'm going to pull a Kanye and throw a fit."
Saturday, December 11th, 8 p.m.
Center for Southern Folklore