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Brenda Linton at Home
Photo by Ira Kohn

Everyone has heard a song that reaches a certain place inside and helps them make sense of the world. Brenda Linton writes that kind of song. “There are a lot of secrets that people hold, both good and bad,” explains Linton. “If you dare to reveal your own secrets, then the listener finds it easier to identify with your song and with you as an artist.”

As the only daughter of Southern parents reared in poverty, Brenda Linton became aware at a young age of her mother’s dreams for her – that she would have red hair and would sing and dance like Shirley Temple.  Today, although the petite redhead has some great moves on the dance floor, she is best known for a voice so pure and melodic that fans have dubbed her the “Carolina Nightingale.” 

Born in Washington, North Carolina, Linton says she was raised by “a passel of kind-hearted women, including my mother, grandmother, maternal aunts, and housekeepers who treated me as their own.”  Her mother overcame childhood polio to become a registered nurse, and began working at the county hospital when Linton was still an infant. Raised in an orphanage, her father was a major source of strength and understanding in later life. But in her early years, his work as a plasterer frequently took him away from home, even to the island of Bermuda. “Part of my dad’s compensation was a month in paradise for my mom and me,” says Linton of the experience, “and I guess my love of the road began there.”

Although Linton remembers hearing lots of music in her home, at church, and at school, her formal education began at the age of eight when her parents bought her a Wurlitzer spinet piano and a set of classical piano books. She demonstrated a quick aptitude for music and, in a few years, began earning top honors in juried piano competitions at the nearby university as well as singing parts in elementary school musicals and plays.

By adolescence, Linton had developed a list of favorite singers, such as Patsy Cline, Paul McCartney, and Joni Mitchell, whose influences would later emerge in her unique vocal style. In high school, she taught herself to play guitar and formed a duo with a girlfriend that later expanded into a folk trio called the New Horizon Singers. By her mid-teens, Linton was performing regularly in college coffee houses. After graduation, Linton joined an established folk-rock group called Warm. Linton’s voice as well as the lush harmonies and original songs provided by the other three members set the band apart from most local acts and for two years, the band toured the southeast playing a variety of clubs, rock festivals, and college venues.

When Warm broke up, Linton decided to pursue her childhood dream of living in Europe. She traveled around Switzerland, Italy, and France before settling in London. She established a musical relationship with a songwriter and recorded some demos which were nibbled at by a British record label but the deal eventually fell through. Meanwhile, she supported herself by working in pubs, Carnaby Street clothes shops, and betting establishments. While in London, Linton also tried some new directions which were short-lived, including singing with a heavy metal band. Homesick and lonely, she turned to songwriting. “During that period, I wrote songs to try to understand myself better,” Linton recalls, “and to capture the essence of stories I heard from the people I met.” One of these, an account from an Irish friend about a supernatural encounter, would later become the title song for her 2005 debut album, THE SECRET.

Recorded and co-produced by John Plymale at Overdub Lane, the six original tracks on THE SECRET' demonstrate Linton’s skill at penning lyrics and music that stir both the heart and mind. "Bargain Love" and "The Good Life" provide opposite views of the same phenomenon – how living a borrowed life only alienates us from ourselves and others.  The jazzy "Quiet Love" testifies to the wisdom of finding our own answers rather than relying on popular culture.

"Warriors" and "Still in This World" are perhaps the most personal songs on the album and movingly express the depth of Linton’s sorrow at losing her mother to breast cancer in 2004 as well as her belief that there is still much to recommend the world, a view made more poignant by her own triumph over the disease a year later. The tune for Warriors was written by Thomas Walsh, a songwriter and accordion player living outside Dublin. “I happened upon his lovely melody, "Innisheer," and knew it would be the perfect complement for my lyrics,” says Linton. “When I called him to get permission to use the tune, he was at home with the flu; but he was very gracious and we found we had a lot in common. Music often allows perfect strangers to quickly get down to the important stuff.”

In 2009, Linton began a collaboration with musicians and songwriters in North Carolina's Triangle area to record a new album of original songs and arrangements called SPARKLE PLENTY. The exquisite lyric and narrative writing reflected on SPARKLE PLENTY takes the listener on a journey of diverse moods and locales ranging from an 18th century rice plantation to a late-night bar where regret hangs in the air like smoke. Co-produced by Rick Lassiter, the album also showcases a traditional ballad from Newfoundland and a poignant song by Laura Silvestri about a young woman's search for the grandmother she never met.

The new album's first track, "No Reason at All," is the account of two people who learn the depths of their capacity to love through the trial and error of long-term relationship. This universal story has been made into a music video by independent film maker, Michael Babbitt, and can be viewed via YouTube and Linton's website.

“My records are really about people I know or have read about in newspapers or historical accounts,” Linton says. “All of us have thoughts and experiences that are very private and only surface indirectly. And it’s that mysterious territory that I love to explore.”