The cover of the new Darien Brahms album “In My Dreams.” Photo by Darien Brahms

Darien Brahms released the album “In My Dreams,” her first in eight years, on Nov. 13. The date was specifically chosen to honor the date that Brahms’ friend and fellow musician Manuel Verzosa was killed in a car accident in Wyoming in 1993.

“In My Dreams” has a dozen original songs on it, and Brahms plays all the instruments. She recorded and produced it at her home in the Waverly neighborhood of Baltimore, which lends its name to her label Waverly Records. Brahms wrote most of the tracks in September and October.

Brahms, born in Peoria, Illinois, moved to Maine as a baby and was a big part of Portland’s local music scene, dating back to the ’80s, releasing her first album, “Hello! Hello! Hello! To the People” in 1992. Four have followed, along with the 2001 album “Bon Voyage” from her band Munjoy Hill Society.

Brahms has been in Maryland since 2016, earning her doctorate in Global Interaction and Exchange from University of Maryland at College Park. She’s currently writing her dissertation on Puerto Rico during the Great Depression and should be Dr. Brahms by 2022. She’s also teaching 75 students a basic survey course on U.S. history from 1865 to present.

Over the course of 48 hours, I listened to “In My Dreams” seven times, and I’m going to break the writer cliche rule for a moment to say that, quite frankly, the album blows me away. From the songwriting to the arrangements, instrumentation and vocals, it’s been worth the wait.

If I were charged with sticking this album into a specific section of a record store, I’d give Brahms her own section at the intersection of rock, rockabilly, Americana, folk and even electronic.

“It’s time to get real, ’cause it’s been unreal/And here’s the new deal/So much better than the old deal/What you want may not be what you get/Stand right here, the future hasn’t happened yet,” sings Brahms in “The New Deal.” Midway through the track, there are samples of FDR’s “fear itself” speech.

“It is the unifying and comforting voice of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the president of the United States during the Great Depression – a man who for better or for worse brought the country out of a major crisis. It is a voice I needed to hear over and over again seeing as the current national leadership has been divisive and fear-producing,” Brahms said about the sample.

Then there’s “The Definition of Insanity,” the hip-swaying track with Brahms’ vocals diving deep into the well. The guitar snarls, and the drum machine beats won’t allow you to sit still.

The title track is my favorite at the moment. With a slow and steady drum line, Brahms’ words flow like poetry. “The world is down for the count/But in my dreams, the world won’t end.” I asked Brahms what the song was about.

“‘In My Dreams’ is about many things, including visions I get of my ancestors when I am twighlighting into dreamland at night. Sometimes I speak to them and use them as my guides in times of need and in all of life’s mundane matters. It is also about the skin hunger of loneliness and the longing for an ex lover,” she said.

I also asked her to speak about what inspired her to make a record after an eight-year recording hiatus.

“I wrote this record as a means to cope with the many losses I have incurred in my life, all of which seemed to have surfaced as I spent more time alone in the pandemic. It is an album of self-examination and most of all, forgiveness for myself and others. ”

Brahms added that although “In My Dreams” is about loss there’s also a silver lining. “I actually think it is a positive, almost happy record in that it has a theme of cleansing and renewal and hope. It has songs that can help you dance away the pain and merge your joy and sadness until everything is alright and balanced again in your body and mind.”

When asked about how about how she’s been holding up during the train wreck of 2020 and how it has informed her as an artist, Brahms opened up a vein and got more personal than perhaps any musician I’ve ever interviewed. She said that she’s well despite the pandemic revealing what she referred to as all of her anxieties and character defects. She also shared about a major change she made in her life. “I have been sober for two and a half years now, and my sober practices have helped me cope during these difficult times.” Brahms takes solace in walking, meditating and making music when not doing schoolwork.

“This record means a lot to me because during the first year of my sobriety, music was so closely associated with alcohol that I could barely pick up my guitar. I moved through that association and now music has become one of my main means of personal and spiritual expression,” said Brahms.

And she had even more to say. “The clarity of mind and soul I am experiencing makes the writing, recording and performing processes magical things that actually get me high at times. I love my new way of living and would not trade it in for the world. Sobriety has made me a better person and musician, not to mention PhD student.”

“In My Dreams” is streaming everywhere, and you can purchase and download it at darienbrahms.org, which is where you can also order it on vinyl, which I most certainly did.

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