Warm and steady guitar work drives “The Hard Way,” and who is a warmer, steadier guitar player than Mark Knopfler? A brilliant stylist, Knopfler is at the same time an impressive team player, willing to figure out the best way to contribute to a song without taking it over. I can’t completely figure out how much my enjoyment of this song, and Knopfler’s part in it, is due to the nostalgic rush of that guitar sound of his. I mean, he just has to do that little lick at 0:20, and my god, it’s like the late ’70s come flooding back in all their innocent glory. It presents like a call back to one of MK’s greatest guest appearances of the era, on Dylan’s Slow Train Coming, in particular the song “Precious Angel.” It’s odd how nostalgia can sometimes slay you even over things you didn’t really have particular feelings for at the time.
Anyway: back to the current century, shall we? Pieta Brown has been releasing albums of well-crafted, acoustic-oriented music since 2002—music that floats around an engaging gray area where folk, blues, jazz, and Americana interweave. She sings with an intimate sort of slurriness, sounding maybe like a cross between a young Rickie Lee Jones and Shawn Colvin; in “The Hard Way,” the lyrical phrases are spread out against the song’s steady pulse, generating a restrained urgency that is ongoingly echoed in Knopfler’s flourishes. The words emerge with such intentionality that small phrasing choices acquire lovely consequence (as a small but distinct example, how she sings the word “sending” at 1:16).
“The Hard Way” is the sixth track on Brown’s new album, Freeway, her first for Ani DiFranco’s Righteous Babe Records. I’d like to think of it as the first song on the second side, as this is the kind of smart, organic music one can imagine living on a vinyl record, even if as of now it exists only digitally. You can listen to the whole thing, and buy it, via Bandcamp. Note that Knopfler also appeared on a song from Brown’s previous album, 2017’s Postcards. And, for the record, note too that Brown was previously featured on Fingertips way back in March 2006. MP3 via The Current (see below).
(MP3s from The Current are available in files that are 128kbps, which is below the established 192kbps standard, not to mention the higher-def standard of 320kbps. I personally don’t hear much difference on ordinary equipment but if you are into high-end sound you’ll probably notice something. In any case I always encourage you to download the MP3 for the purposes of getting to know a song via a few listens; if you like it I still urge you to buy the music. It’s still the right thing to do.)