Pieta Brown must have a green thumb. Only the verdant garden of earthly delights she cultivates includes a colorful collection of words, phrases and notes that magically sprout into beautiful songs, slowly climbing like a clinging vine until they wrap around your heart and refuse to let go.
As the flower child of Greg Brown, one of Iowa's forefathers of folk, Pieta has grown into her own as a roots artist since beginning a budding career with the release of her first record in 2002.
Her sixth full-length album, Paradise Outlaw (Red House Records), released last September, reveals a stunning, seductive singer-songwriter in full bloom, as poet, producer and proprietor of a group of songs that are equal parts tender, alluring and utterly unforgettable.
Brown is also mysterious, and admitted in our 2011 interview that she likes to keep certain personal details about her life private while letting her lyrics and music provide ways to connect with outsiders. But it's obvious this firm believer in flower power (see Q&A below) is a reflective romantic at heart, expressing her love through sentimental songs such as "Be With You" (from 2011's Mercury) and "Prayer of Roses" (off 2010's One and All).
Now, just in time for Valentine's Day and just ahead of a U.S. tour that begins Feb. 27 in Denver, Pieta is premiering the video of "Flowers of Love" for readers of The Huffington Post. Instead of receiving flowers or candy on this international holiday for lovers, she'll gladly take the gift of song instead. Except this time, the generous free spirit presents a bountiful bouquet in the form of an irresistible video directed by Mei-Ling Shaw Williams.
The bouncy number includes harmony vocals by Justin Vernon, the brains, heart and soul behind Bon Iver who offered up to Brown his April Base recording studio in Fall Creek, Wisconsin (near his hometown of Eau Claire) shortly after they met in 2012 while on tour in Australia.
"Flowers of Love" was one of the 14 songs that made the album (all originals except the cover of Mark Knopfler's "Before Gas and TV") among the 20 recorded live in one big room at April Base from Sept. 17-20, 2012.
Originally intended to be a double album, Paradise Outlaw was led by a strong supporting cast that included Pieta's husband, co-producer and electric guitarist Bo Ramsey, Amos Lee (Pieta's cowriter and duet partner on "Do You Know?") and Pieta's dad Greg.
Explaining his part in the process, Vernon said in an email, "My close friend and engineer BJ Burton was doing the album in our house. And I've always been a fan of hers and her father's. I was very exhausted from touring and recording nonstop and had made a conscious decision not to record on anyone's album for a while. But I was upstairs, and the music sounded TOO good not to want to be a part of it. Still is probably my favorite record ever made at our studio."
Added Pieta about the spontaneous collaborative contribution, "I'm a big fan of unspoken connections. I feel a music/land/Midwest connection with Justin. So when Justin came down into the studio and joined in, it made perfect sense."
Their mutual admiration and shared enthusiasm are readily apparent in the adorably animated "Flowers of Love." And since flowers and Valentine's Day go together so well, it seemed like the perfect time to catch up with Pieta and ask her a few questions via email about matters of the heart and the powerful symbols connected to this dance with romance. So check out the video, then enjoy her responses to 10 questions dealing with the flower power of love:
PIETA BROWN'S LOVE CONNECTIONS
1. How will you spend Valentine's Day?
That's a secret ...
2. What's your favorite flower to receive -- on any occasion?
Any and all flowers!
3. What do you remember about meeting your first love?
The feeling that we were old friends ...
4. What (or who) inspired you to write "Flowers of Love"?
The day I wrote that song I came across a great photo of George Harrison ... in the photo he's sitting in a bunch of flowers. The photo was something I must've torn from a magazine. Found it tucked in a little book in my garage studio. I had been revisiting a lot of Allen Ginsberg poems around this time, too. And had just read about Allen Ginsberg being a force behind the idea of (he coined the term!) flower power. He wrote an essay called How To Make A March/Spectacle (1965) urging people to "give masses of flowers" to police, press, politicians and so on ... with the idea of turning the antiwar protests of the day into "peaceful affirmative spectacles." I was touched and inspired by this ... the idea that something serious and urgent can also have a sense of lightness and sweetness about it and be delivered with a peaceful intention is radical! So I got to thinking I should experiment in using flower power in music and songs, here and now...
So, I happened to have my banjo out when I found that picture of George Harrison, and with all that flower power fever I had going, well ... before you know it I had a song called "Flowers Of Love."
5. Flower phrase you relate to more: "Everything's coming up roses," "fresh as a daisy" or "tiptoe through the tulips" (and why)?
"Everything's coming up roses" To quote another favorite of mine, Dolly Parton, "I wake up every morning ... if things are not right I try to set about trying to make 'em right."
6. How does your garden grow?
7. Growing up, which poster on your bedroom wall did you cherish the most?
Led Zeppelin. Swan Song.
8. What's the most romantic album in your collection (and why)?
Oh man ... never have been good at "most" or favorites ... but a few that come to mind today are ...
SADE -- Lovers Rock
VAN MORRISON -- Tupelo Honey
KING CURTIS -- King Soul
9. What would you love to accomplish next?
I would love to accomplish feeling like I don't need to accomplish anything ...
10. If you weren't singing and writing music, what would you love to be doing?
I make a point of putting love into everything I do ...
Publicity photos by Mei-Ling Shaw Williams.