Brown has made a striking contribution to the large and ever-growing sisterhood of singer-songwriters, from Mary Chapin Carpenter ’81 through Catie Curtis ’87, Lisa Loeb ’90 and Liz Mitchell ’90, and Erin McKeown ’00. Add to this list Deb Talan, who made her mark on the Boston coffeehouse circuit in the late 1990s and now lives in the Northampton, Massachusetts, area.
Talan’s third CD, A Bird Flies Out, reveals a polished, literate songwriter working the porous border between pop and folk with a distinctive curl in her voice. The CD starts strongly with the Shawn Colvin–esque “Unraveling,” followed by “Tell Your Story Walking,” inspired by Jonathan Lethem’s novel Motherless Brooklyn (the song was chosen for a benefit CD put out by the Songs Inspired by Literature Project—siblproject.org). “Tell it to the judge, man,” Talan sings over a melancholy descending keyboard line. “Tell it to your motherless reflection. In a sock and one shoe after the great defection, he said, ‘Tell a lie sometimes, tell the truth when it suits you, and when you’ve lost your way tell a story.’ ”
Further into the CD, Talan blends in more with the pack of guitar-strumming troubadours, especially in, straightforward folky expressions like “How Will He Find Me” and “Comfort.” A little rock edge, both in the harmonies and in the studio arrangements, brings out the best in her writing and her singing.
A Bird Flies Out was largely recorded at home by Talan and her partner, Steve Tannen, with limited overdubs of drums and other supporting instruments in the studio. More and more CDs are being made in this homegrown fashion. It’s economical for artists like Talan who release CDs via their own dot-com domains, and the setting lends a relaxed intimacy to the performances. The do-it-yourself working method offers another significant advantage: relieved of the bottom-line pressures of record companies, artists have the space to develop their voices and their audiences from album to album and year to year. A Bird Flies Out sounds like a prologue to many more good songs.
Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers (jeffreypepperrodgers.com) is a contributor to All Things Considered and author of The Complete Singer-Songwriter.