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Chastity Brown takes over the Aster Cafe

17 May

By Natalie Gallagher

At this point in her career, it can safely be assumed that Chastity Brown is a little bigger than the 90-cover capacity of the Aster Café. With the recent release of her fourth album, Back-Roads Highways—the first release after being signed to the renowned Nashville-based C&D Music Network—Chastity is arguably beyond small café gigs.

The stage at the Aster has barely enough room to contain the band, consisting of DeVon Gray on keys, Robert Mulrennan on guitar, Michael X. on drums, and Jef Sundquist on bass.  Every table and bar seat was full with reservations, with hardly any standing room for the group of followers that showed up regardless. But in a lot of ways, the intimacy and smallness of the Aster suits Brown and her style perfectly.

I’ve seen Chastity Brown enough times that I should be able to predict her set—or at least know what to expect. That would be fine if it were any other artist, but no. The thing I’ve learned with Chastity is that the only thing I can expect is that it will be intense.

Chastity is from the South. She’s a Tennessee gal, and you can hear it in her slow speech, in the long drawn-out vowels and sandpaper edge to her tone. Listening to Chastity talk is like taking a walk down a dirt path to fetch fresh blue water out of a hidden county stream surrounded by oaks covered in Spanish moss. Listening to her sing is like dying under those trees and rising the next day. If that sounds a little too dramatic, it’s nothing compared to the old soul that Chastity casually opens up to audiences.

So there I am, sitting at the bar, sipping something delicious, fully intending to take notes on Chastity’s songs and set list and progression—and then, by the first song, I’ve forgotten to. Chastity has that kind of power. She slides in between songs, calling them out to her band as she goes, and her voice is as singular as a birdsong in a desert. She covers Gillian Welch’s “Look At Miss Ohio” and glides seamlessly into tracks from her recent Back-Roads Highways. In some ways, this most recent album—and subsequent performances—seem like a return to the roots for Chastity. The blues come naturally for her, they infiltrate her set without her even knowing it, because just as I stopped taking notes, Chastity stopped monitoring herself. She lets herself go in a performance, allows herself to feel every word she’s singing—and that’s what is possibly the most beautiful and striking part of her show. Looking around at the audience, pin-drop silent, lost in the unified tapping foots and bobbing heads and in-seat jiving, it’s obvious that Chastity Brown has the power to evoke some incredible, buried emotion in people—something distinctly American, something truly painful and glorious at the same time. She doesn’t apologize for it. She just expresses her thanks.

To find out when Chastity is performing next, click here.

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