April 1, 2016 by TOM HUIZENGA
Ane Brun recently turned 40, and she — like many of us who've reached that milestone — has been taking stock of her life. It's a life filled with music and success, but there have also been a few rough spots. Like the time we scheduled her to play a Tiny Desk concert in 2012 and she was forced to cancel an entire North American tour (with Peter Gabriel) due to a lupus flareup. Brun, a Norwegian native based in Sweden, was diagnosed with the autoimmune disease when she was 27.
But after that episode landed her in the hospital, Brun told NPR she'd had something of an epiphany. "I got an enlightenment somehow. And also freedom. Because I feel that freedom is an absence of fear."
Brun isn't afraid to face her demons. Many songs on her absorbing new album, When I'm Free, speak to her newfound freedom and fresh opportunities. She sings three of the album's slower, more reflective numbers for this Tiny Desk performance.
In "Still Waters," Brun sings, "How I've been longing / Oh, for this moment when / The rivers are running / Towards the same sea / For this moment when I'm free." Her voice, with its tight vibrato and expressive coloring, walks an emotional line between vulnerability and confidence.
Brun is undervalued as a songwriter. She turns out introspective, insightful portrait pieces, rhythmically complex rockers and tender love songs which are at once sensuous and probing. "All We Want Is Love" sways gently, but also questions the very definition of ourselves.
She closes with another song about taking control of her destiny. The title, "Signing Off," may sound ominous, but then she sings: "Everything that's broken / Everything that's gone wrong / I am gonna carry that with me / Mend the streets with it stone by stone."
As far as turning 40 goes, Brun says she doesn't mind time passing by. And her admirers shouldn't either. It just means more compelling albums to come from one of today's most insightful musicians.
When I'm Free is available now:
"All We Want Is Love"
Producers: Tom Huizenga, Niki Walker; Audio Engineers: Josh Rogosin; Videographers: Niki Walker, Kara Frame; Production Assistant: Jackson Sinnenberg; Photo: NPR.