FolkWorld #78 07/2022
© Nick Loss-Eaton Media

Across the Western Ocean

Banjo Month

Nora Brown: Tiny Desk (Home) Concert. Thirty feet below the surface in Brooklyn, 10th grader Nora Brown brings incredible, surprising depth to the Appalachian music she plays. Over the course of her Tiny Desk Meets globalFEST concert, surrounded by innumerable globes and instruments, she infuses new life and energy into the traditional songs of Addie Graham, Virgil Anderson and Fred Cockerham. Nora weaves together songs and storytelling, speaking of the great history of the music that came before her and at which she excels. This performance took place on the second night of our 2021 festival. --globalFEST

Well Beyond Her Years

Brooklyn's Nora Brown, an NPR Tiny Desk alum, may be just 16 years old but the depth and emotional impact of her Appalachian folk sound is well beyond her years. Her music is incredibly affecting and it isn't rare to see audiences with tears in their eyes. She's learned banjo from masters in Brooklyn (where she lives and where legendary New Lost City Ramblers member, filmmaker, and folklorist John Cohen was a mentor before his passing) and Kentucky (where she's taken frequent sojourns to learn new songs in person and soak up the culture).

Nora Brown

Artist Video

Hailed as a “rising star” by NPR’s Weekend Edition and “impossibly talented” by Fretboard Journal, sixteen-year-old banjo virtuoso Nora Brown will return this summer with her third full-length album, Long Time To Be Gone (out August 26 via Jalopy Records). Recorded at the historic St. Ann’s Church in Brooklyn Heights, the soulful, mesmerizing collection of traditional tunes and Appalachian instrumentals follows her performance on NPR’s prestigious Tiny Desk Concert series, where she was lauded for bringing “incredible, surprising depth to the Appalachian music she plays”; and 2021’s Sidetrack My Engine, which debuted at #6 on the Billboard Bluegrass Chart.

John Cohen

John Cohen @ FROG

“I recorded my last project in an underground tunnel,” says Brown, “but this time we were working in a cavernous church, which allowed us to really experiment with all the sounds that different locations in the sanctuary and different mic configurations could produce. When you listen, you can hear the expanse of the space pretty clearly, which was really important to our approach on these recordings.”

The tracklist here offers a snapshot of a remarkable young artist at a pivotal moment in her evolution, showcasing both her deepening instrumental prowess and the arresting power of her poignant, understated vocal delivery. From Appalachian coal miners to Texas Rangers to the descendents of the enslaved, the songs draw on the lived experiences of a broad swath of Americans, keeping their stories and spirits alive with a both solemn reverence and exhilarating vitality. Brown plays a variety of unique instruments on the record, too, including an 1888 Ludscomb banjo owned by her great-great-grandfather, a fretless tack head banjo built by her dad, and an historic five-string banjo that belonged to one of her mentors, New Lost City Ramblers member John Cohen (the instrument was played by Roscoe Halcomb on his iconic High Lonesome Sound album and is now in the permanent collection of the Library of Congress).

Born and raised in Brooklyn, Brown first began learning stringed instruments at the age of six from the late Shlomo Pestcoe, who instilled a belief that music is meant to be shared. In the decade to come, she would go on study with old-time masters like Cohen, Lee Sexton, and George Gibson, win numerous banjo and folk song competitions around the country, and have her work featured everywhere from NPR’s All Songs Considered to WNYC’s Dolly Parton’s America. Brown made her Billboard Bluegrass Chart debut in 2019, hitting #7 with her first album, Cinnamon Tree, and followed it up in 2021 with the critically acclaimed Sidetrack My Engine, which American Songwriter proclaimed to be “an exhibit of sonic heirlooms carefully amended to meet a modern moment with vintage elegance.”

Brown will preview Long Time To Be Gone with an intimate July 11 performance at the City Winery Loft in NYC before celebrating the album’s official release with an August 26 headline show at St. Ann's Church in Brooklyn, where the collection was recorded.

NPR’s All Songs Considered highlighted Brown’s Little Satchel single, the first from her album Long Time To Be Gone (August 26 / Jalopy Records). Bob Boilen said, "Nora has a passion for the music of eastern Kentucky and Tennessee... with a thirst for storytelling”. Here's a video performed on Roscoe Holcomb's banjo filmed during the album sessions.

Video of Cumberland Gap from the recording session at St. Ann's Church in Brooklyn Heights, Brooklyn, NY. “I learned this version of this classic tune a bit from John Haywood of Whitesburg KY, and some from Lee Sexton Of Linefork KY,” says Brown, continuing “This is a tune where a little style switching is needed for the right hand.”

Photo Credits: (1) Nora Brown, (2) John Cohen (unknown/website).

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