Even babies get down to singer Eden Brent’s brand of the blues


Singer-pianist Eden Brent has a husky voice, which she attributes to years spent smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol. (Julia Bailey)

Singer-pianist Eden Brent says she’s “an inherently lazy person,” which makes her think she’d do well as a member of Congress.

The three-time Blues Music Award-winner was a House of Representatives page in 1982, toiling for Congressman David Bowen from her native Mississippi. As she ran around delivering stuff, the teen was struck by how the staff does so much more than the representatives.

It’s something Brent can relate to as a professional musician. “The people working for me wind up doing a lot more work than I do,” she says. “Even if I do two sets, that’s no more than three hours of work in a 24-hour period.”

Then again, making music does burn up energy. “If I’m doing a boogie woogie, my arms are busy,” she says. “Even singing requires something similar to an aerobic-style workout. If I’m playing a ballad in a chilly room or outside, I don’t need a jacket. I get hot doing it.”

Brent, who performs at Hill Country Live on Thursday, started piano lessons at 5 but didn’t find her style until she started studying with the great bluesman Abie “Boogaloo” Ames. She first met him when he played at her sister’s wedding, and, when she was 19, she asked if he’d give her lessons.

“He taught me the critical use of the bass line,” she says. “A lot of people who listen to boogie woogie think they’re responding to ‘tickling the ivories’ … but what they’re really responding to is that grooving bass line.”

Brent, who’s now 48 (“it’s on the damned Internet — there isn’t any point in me lying about it”) says her playing honors Ames’ art form — a style she’s thrilled that audiences still get into. “Even little babies will dance,” she says.

Brent’s husky, dusky voice sounds as if it’s winking at the audience — and as if it smoked too many cigarettes and drank too much booze. “I drink just about everything you can imagine,” she says. “I come from a long line of heavy drinking. We drink when we’re sad or happy. I think a lot of river communities love to drink.”

And yes, she is a smoker: “It seems so unpopular now,” she says. “It’s almost like if you say you smoke pot you would get a better response than if you say you smoked cigarettes.”

Inside Track

Eden Brent covers the Joan Armatrading song “Opportunity” on her just-released album “Jigsaw Heart,” which was recorded in Nashville and has a country flavor. For the tale of a down-on-her-luck woman who casts her fate with a man who has a plan and a gun, Brent sings with tart regret and plays slinky piano riffs. “That particular song tells such a great story,” Brent says. “In the Delta, sometimes the opportunity that knocks is the wrong kind of opportunity. I know plenty of people who’ve gotten in trouble trying to make a buck the wrong way.”

Hill Country DC, 410 Seventh St., NW; Thu., 8:30 p.m., free; 202-556-2050. (Gallery Place)

Marc Silver has been watching TV since the days when people wrapped aluminum foil around TV antennae to improve reception.
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