Bronwynne Brent has a love story to tell. “She meets a man, but it’s more about a feeling and loving in the moment,” says Brent. “She is falling for him but doesn’t want to admit it.”
This is “I Know It’s Late,” the opening track from Undercover, the Mississippi singer and songwriter’s upcoming third album, out April 10. From this first “chapter,” Brent’s story plays out through 13 soulful, tracks. “The whole album is really about one story,” says Brent. Led by her thick, sultry, jazzed up vocals, “I Know It’s Too Late” sets the scene of the entire album with her crooning I can’t quit a good thing, before my good thing goes bad / Everybody knows a good thing when they see it / Good things don’t last.
Her first release since 2014’s Stardust, Brent eventually returned to the U.S. after taking a creative hiatus in the U.K. and landed on the East Coast, at Brooklyn, NY’s Daptone Studios, where she pieced together Undercover with producer Johnny Sangster (Mark Lanegan, Mudhoney), and Mikey Post and Ben Trokan of Tennessee garage punks Reigning Sound.
Known for its soulful sound, Daptone Studios was the perfect spot for Undercover. Tracked during a hot week in the summer, Undercover melded together with Brent and her quartet of Trokan on bass, drummer Post, Dan Walker on keys, and Sangster on guitar.
“I was playing my Bourgeois guitar, backed by the quartet capturing live takes to eight-track reel to reel,” Brent tells American Songwriter. “Johnny [Sangster] had mentioned these guys before to me. It’s the ’60s sound that they do so well. The choice of Mikey [Post] and Benny [Trokan] as a rhythm section made perfect sense, and Johnny said, ‘I felt they could bring the street toughness to Bronwynne’s southern vulnerability.’”
Tapping into the ’50s blues and jazz, Brent offers up her renditions of Chuck Willis’ “Whatcha Gonna Do When Your Baby Leaves You” and a heartbreaking take on Jacques Brel’s “If you Go Away” pulling in cellist Barb Hunter to give the track a symphonic, James Bond-worthy, backbone.
“I have never recorded a cover song and thought it might be fun,” says Brent. “I first heard Nina Simone’s version of “Ne Me Quitte Pas,” long ago. It’s heartbreaking.”
It wasn’t until later that she heard Rod McKuen’s translation, “If You Go Away” that the song had a deeper connection for Brent. “The sadness of the melody transcends any language I think,” says Brent. “You have two different lyrics but the songs are equally aching to me. I also love Shirley Bassey‘s version.”
Backed in rhythmic beats and blues, Undercover is a brooding tale of love and loss, getting some uplift on “Walking Relapse” and closing on a more empowered note with “I Walked Away.” In the end, there’s no regret or looking back.
“It’s my favorite album I’ve ever done,” says Brent. “I must say that Mikey and Benny were hilarious to be around. They made it a fun experience for me. I think being relaxed and having fun comes through in the recording.”