“Well, I went up to the city to find myself, and didn’t find a thing at all/ except for a couple new ways to forget what I was lookin’ for... but gimme a compass needle, some honest people, and a place that I can stay/I can find my own way home.”
Thus begins Kirby Brown’s Uncommon Prayer, a ten-song soliloquy of loneliness and longing, underpinned with a fundamental belief that there is always a home to be found. From being raised in a small, picturesque farm town, to years spent roaming the charged, gritty sidewalks of New York City, Brown has made his home in the extremes of American culture. However, it is his own experiences of personal loss and subsequent growth — in combination with these varied backdrops — that inspire his constant search for perspective. “This album is definitely centered around a desire for identity and truth,” explains Brown, “but it’s not me wondering if I’m one thing or another. I know that, like a stained glass window, I am many things and I am one thing simultaneously. Similarly, life is not about pain versus beauty, confusion versus meaning, but rather it is all of those things — and one is born of the other. One thing I learned living on a farm is that you have to break the ground if you want to see any growth.”
Born in Deep East Texas and raised in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas, Brown spent his childhood on his grandparents’ dairy farm, where his dad was the milkhand. “I had a lot of misgivings about growing up in a really small place, until I was an adult and came to appreciate my upbringing,” says Brown. After his parents split, the family moved back to East Texas, where he discovered Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, and the various icons of the Texas songwriting tradition. Although these artists, among other favorites like Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan, led him to start playing the guitar, it was his father who inspired him to start writing poetry and short stories. His dad had gone back to school to study English Literature and introduced his young son to a variety of the great American writers — Walt Whitman, Donald Hall , Sylvia Plath, and the like. “If you ask me who my influences are, I’m more likely to name, say, Flannery O’Connor than any songwriter, because I feel that I naturally and subconsciously approach songs from a distinctly literary perspective,” he explains.
Brown’s life took a sharp turn in his late teens. Shortly after high school, both his first love and his long time best friend died tragically and unexpectedly in the space of a year, and it was feelings of immense loss and brokenness that initially inspired him to record an album. Rather than attend university as he had previously planned, Brown found himself floating around the Dallas area, working for his friend’s band and trying to regain his sense of what life was supposed to be. Out of sheer emotional necessity he began to write and record what eventually became his first album, Child of Calamity. “I think you can hear it on that album,” he says, “someone who is working through a loss of love and loss of innocence, and he’s trying to figure out what to do with the leftover pieces of what he thought he knew.”
When a gig brought him to New York City, Brown unexpectedly fell in love with the place. “I had no concept of New York before that trip, so it was kind of crazy. But I had reached a sort of plateau in Texas, and after being there for a few days I just felt like it was calling to me,” he explains. Brown’s time in New York City was as inspirational as it was isolated, and it fueled moments of heavy existential contemplation. “I feel like, even though it’s not always apparent, the most prevalent conversation I’m having in my writing is the one that I’m constantly having with God — or the idea of God,” he explains. “But it’s a unique back-and-forth, so to speak. Like after you send a text message, and there’s that three dot reply bubble while the other person is typing a response… it’s just that most times it feels like I may be stuck with just those bubbles forever [laughing].” Still, Brown seems to find humor in the endless search for meaning. In “Place to Stay” he sings: “I just spent all night at the diner, searching for the truth in my eggs.”
Joined by fellow Dallas musicians and frequent collaborators The Texas Gentleman and producer Beau Bedford, Brown sounds completely at home on Uncommon Prayer, which was recorded at the legendary FAME studios in Muscle Shoals. His conversational phrasing and plaintive vocals lead the listener through the winding hills of the Ozarks, the muggy heat of Texas, and the crowded streets of New York City with ease. Despite his literary bent, the songs are upbeat and go down easily, with clear pop melodic sensibilities complementing the evocative lyrical twists and turns. His hopeful tone leaves the listener feeling both understood and inspired to “keep on keeping on,” and to embrace the pain and loneliness that we all inevitably come upon. Throughout the album Brown conveys to his listeners that no matter where they are on their own journey through brokenness and growth, there is always beauty, truth, and a sense of meaning to be found. As he says in “Broken Bell”: “anyway you come is plenty way enough for you to feel at home — until you move along.”