Mississippi Piano Powerhouse brings her renowned skills and a set of soul-baring new songs to Nashville

Take Eden Brent to a Nashville studio and you’ll still hear the sound of the Mississippi Delta. There’s no way around that. Say you’ve decided to drive from New Orleans to Nashville. Whichever way you go — straight up 55 or heading northeast on 59 — you’re gonna cut across Eden’s home state of Mississippi. And that’s precisely the route Eden’s recording career just took, as her last album — Ain’t Got No Troubles (recorded in New Orleans in 2010) — gives way to her deepest, most personal album yet: Jigsaw Heart, recorded in Nashville but shot through with Eden’s Mississippi roots.

She chose to record this soulful slice of Americana at Ben’s Studio (Ben Folds), formerly the historic RCA Studio A, laying down the tracks live and with minimal isolation. True to life, Eden had to journey through Mississippi to get from New Orleans (the location of her last recording) to Nashville (the site of her new one), stirring up the echoes of her past and reaching out to her stable of longtime friends to create this riveting, reflective new work.

Eden’s Mississippi roots appear even before the first note sounds. The front cover of Jigsaw Heart features a portrait of Eden by Vicksburg artist H.C. Porter (from Porter’s Blues @ Home series). Those roots extend even deeper once the needle drops. Two of its songs were penned by Mississippi friends who also contributed to her earlier albums: the slow-burn torch song Tendin’ to a Broken Heart (Tommy Polk) and the loping country-rocker Panther Burn (Jimmy Phillips).

Her cherished piano-bench partner Boogaloo Ames would be proud of the three-time Blues Music Award winner and her masterful piano work on Jigsaw Heart, which begins with the blues and flowers outward from there. Notoriously eclectic himself when it came to song choices, Boogaloo would be thrilled by the breadth of styles and songs on her new album, starting with track one, Better This Way. This Brent original — with its achingly slow tempo and seductive fusion of blues, gospel and Nashville Sound strings — would surely have started Ray Charles to rocking left and right.

Better This Way is not the album’s only heartbroken concession to lost love. Jigsaw Heart — the album’s title track and emotional fulcrum — is a stunning original about picking up the pieces of broken love, with tears streaming and hope rising throughout Eden’s lyrics and the sublime pedal-steel playing of Dan Dugmore. Jigsaw Heart is one of a few songs here with chord changes and soulful piano passages that could have come from Randy Newman, or even Sir Elton. Another dreamy look back is The Last Time, a wistful tune with an intoxicating melody that again might earn Eden comparisons to Norah Jones.

Jigsaw Heart is no downbeat trip, though. Track two, Everybody Already Knows, sounds like a rockin’ classic everybody already knows, a roadhouse boogie-woogie and a joyful embrace of unconcealed passion. Locomotive speeds down the tracks with a train-track beat and some crafty wordplay about a woman’s loco motives. And Opportunity is a funky, gritty electric-piano tribute to one of Eden’s musical heroes, Joan Armatrading. She also takes the time to honor Nina Simone (I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free) and Texas-swing songstress Toni Price (Get the Hell Out of Dodge). It all leads up to the starkly beautiful romantic confession of the final track, Valentine, penned by the album’s producer (and longtime Eden Brent collaborator), guitarist extraordinaire Colin Linden.

Throughout the made-in-Nashville creation that is Jigsaw Heart, we find evidence of an album that came to life in Music City. The musicianship and arrangements are outstanding and voices share the atmosphere with sweet, sweeping strings. An array of American music styles they sure love down South — blues, gospel, soul, country and R&B — come together in an immensely satisfying melting pot of sound. This is an album forged in Nashville — but it couldn’t have been made without materials first collected in Mississippi and all along Eden’s journey in life and music ever since her childhood in Greenville, a town she still calls home.

“I tried to go in a slightly different direction,” she said of her new album. “Nothing in particular made me take a new direction. I still love the blues. I would have to leave the Delta if I didn’t. I just needed to stretch my legs.”

She hasn’t left the Delta on Jigsaw Heart. She’s just out on a good, long walk, making new discoveries and sharing them with us.