Pretend Sweethearts’ new record Becoming the Tender Animal, is loaded with transcendental folk delicacies. With a populist heart, a Sufi spirit and the incurable vagabonding predisposition, the songs draw their essence from many wells. This isn’t cutesy, derivative, middle-class “bluegrass” – this is 21st century folk music passionately articulating hope, despair and vision amid the roots and detritus of contemporary music. Brianna Blackbird and Drew de Man are from opposite ends of America. Mercurial, Bri’s muse reflects the Northwest’s ever-changing weather. The Portland native remembers when Elliot Smith wasn’t necessarily considered cool and knows what it means to practice piano all winter. If Drew’s voice has an occasional twang, it’s real twang as deep as his abiding love of pedal steel, an instrument he fell for as a child growing up in Georgia.
As they were mastering Becoming the Tender Animal, the Sweethearts were packing up, selling or giving away the contents of their apartment in Portland, Oregon. Six months pregnant, the vagabond duo had made up their minds to move to Bolivia and thus “take refuge in adventure.” The winter rains were falling and friends were coming by for last potlucks and guitar pulls on the floor, walking away with pieces of Drew’s record collection and Beatle boots. They jettisoned prized books, sold the beds, pots and pans right out from under themselves, hopped in the van and drove across the country for one last tour. Just after New Year’s, they took their guitars and five year old daughter and flew away to Cochabamba, Bolivia, in the heart of South America.
Singing about the broken-hearted joys of sleeping alone, the death of Shakespeare’s tragic Desdemona or her own longing to transform into one of many birds, Brianna Blackbird’s vibrant voice has been compared to Emmylou Harris and Joan Baez. Her raw folk honesty is tempered with the studied technique of a music teacher’s daughter, and she picks intriguing figures on a well-worn Gibson that’s probably twice her age.
This live concert was originally broadcast June 17th, 2015 from Seattle's Empty Sea Studios.
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