Addie Brownlee feels most settled when she’s unsettled.
Stepping on deck aboard a boat in the middle of the North Atlantic -- the first time she had been on the open sea -- she found herself struggling for balance.
“I found it very quickly even though I’d never done this before,” she says. “It was a very familiar feeling: constantly finding my footing.”
Addie was en route to do a show -- “right after I’d finally made a clean break from a time in my life that had a lot of unclean breaks” -- and she found her rapid regaining of balance an apt metaphor.
So she started writing.
The resulting song -- “Sea Legs” off her new EP, “East of Leaving” -- features a cameo by Martha Wainwright. It’s a rolling, lolling post-heartbreak shanty: “I got good sea legs from a year of trying to find my footing,” she sings in a voice that’s been oft compared to Dusty Springfield.
“Even Dusty Springfield’s name evoked the sound of her voice. I love the comparison.” If Brownlee’s voice is of the dust, the earth, then her lyrics are a hard rain. Eroding the surface of things, exposing feelings that aren’t easily expressed or classified, but so familiar it seems someone should have written these songs before.
Born in Kansas, Addie got her first taste of travel when she was 10, when her folks moved to East Tennessee. “I did learn from my parents not to stay put if it was time to go,” she says. “I think that specific move had a very profound impact on me. It taught me that no place is worth holding on to if means not having the next experience. It’s a lesson I continue to learn.”
The ease with which she learned to move took her to Chicago after college where, even though life was good, she ultimately decided to relocate again. In 2002 Addie made her latest move -- to New York. “I knew it was time to come here,” she says.
The itinerant nowhereness of travel has proven fertile creative ground for Addie. “It’s a place of transition, a neither here nor there place,” she says. “I do tend to write a lot as I travel. I wrote ‘Sea Legs’ on a boat; the title of the album is ‘East of Leaving’.”
And yet with a voice so deeply rooted, she sounds intent on staying.