By Hank Adams
Chastity Brown’s new Sing To The Walls, which arrives today on Red House Records, is ferociously soft.
Emerging from the early days of the pandemic – with its quarantine and confusion, its uprising and rage – the Minneapolis-based Brown came away from that time of isolation and deep processing with an album full of determined resilience. Like a sunflower follows the path of the sun, she repeatedly leans toward hope, love, and joy.
From the atmospheric, angel harmonies of opener, “Wonderment,” to the drifting wind chimes and nap-on-a-backyard-hammock vibes of “Gertrude,” at the close, these songs feel simultaneously old fashioned and new. With Sing To The Walls, Brown has produced something both timeless and universal. And, at times, subtly funky.
Her raw-soft voice bleeds and blends with the pulsing beat of “Back Seat” and “Loving the Questions,” where she sits still inside moments and memories, observing her feelings with a sad and sensual honesty. “What can we do here, what words can we speak?” she asks in “Loving the Questions.” “Language is silence with the spaces between.”
“Boston” revels in recalling the heady moments of new love, of “writing little love letters on the phone.” And “Curiosity” sits at the other end of a love story, where she finds herself asking “Who am I without those stones you threw, who am I when I’m not watching you from the corner of my mind, to see if everything’s alright?”
Love winds through the entire album. Sometimes soft, easy and “Like the Sun,” a song celebrating a love that “pulled me from a dark place in my mind.” Other times there’s push, pull, and longing. On the title track when she insists, “I will sing to your walls, hope it gets through. And I will sing to your scars, they need healing too.” And “Hope” addresses the anxiety of moving on, as she acknowledges, “My questions and fears got their voices too.” Hope prevails despite the various twists, turns, and trials.
In an album seemingly determined to remain full of light even in bleak circumstances, “Golden” stands out – at first – as misplaced… a rock jutting up out of the easy stream of the other tunes that surround it. “Does this Black woman’s voice have too much power, would it go down sweetly if I sang softer?” Brown asks. The most outwardly-focused track, reflecting all the rage of that first pandemic summer, Brown repeatedly asks – insisting the question stays front and center – “Why have I got to be angry?”
Yet, what at first stands out as not belonging instead turns out to be the whole damned point. “I have joy even when I’m a target. If you think that’s political don’t get me started.” With “Golden,” Brown is stewing in heartache, grief and deep-down anger, relentlessly rooting through it all to push up and flower. “There’s glory in my name…You know I’m golden and I flaunt it.”
Embracing the sweetness, accepting the salt and the bitterness, yet remaining ferociously soft through it all – that is Sing To The Walls. We all carry different stories. We cling to the details that define our individuality. But Brown’s songwriting taps in deep enough that you can’t help but see your life and your heart reflected in hers. It’s inevitable.
Hank Adams is a writer, photographer, and country music fan from way back… and an overalls enthusiast. They are based in Central Pennsylvania.