While 2020 will sadly be remembered for different reasons, it is definitely a year I will look back on as bringing us some stunning albums from female country artists. And there are still more to come!
If, like me, the name Rachel Brooke is new to you, then now is a great time to find out more about this Michigan based multi-instumentalist/singer/songwriter with her new album “The Loneliness In Me” due for release on 23rd October via MAL Records. On the other hand, if you are already familiar with her name and back catalogue, which started with her 2008 self-titled album, you will no doubt be excited to hear what will be Rachel’s first solo release since 2012’s “A Killer’s Dream”. In the intervening eight years Rachel has concentrated on other aspects of her life but has kept connected with music by working on collaborative projects, and much of the material for her new album has resulted from this period of deep reflection none more so maybe than its title track which Rachel describes as one of the most honest she has ever written. While on the surface this infectious, upbeat song which offers an insight into her quirky personality is great fun, it cleverly references her struggle with anxiety and depression as well as the the challenges of juggling motherhood with being an independent musician ( a dilemma that gets further attention on the album closer ” I Miss It like it’s Gone ” ) . it’s a great example of how she combines truth, humour and storytelling in her writing, and the accompanying video is kept real too, filmed in places where she has performed and worked over the years.
Apparently a career in music was never a conscious decision but more a ” given” for Rachel, who grew up in a musical household and started playing the piano aged five. Her musical influences are varied and I really love how they filter into her own music, contributing to her exciting and unique sound. Her teen years saw her playing with an all-girl punk band ( that helps explain her raw energy! ) and then with her late father and brother in the family bluegrass band. As well as naming Hank Williams and Johnny Cash as major inspirations for her writing, the title track of the aforementioned 2012 album is definitely a nod to The Beach Boys and there’s also clearly a strong appreciation for the blues which manifests itself in much of her music. I’ve seen her voice compared to country greats such as Loretta, Tammy and Kitty, but it is pure Rachel as far as I’m concerned!
Unusually for her, many of the songs on the new album are co-writes and see Rachel collaborating with her husband Brooks Robbins. Recorded in Traverse City, Michigan, and mastered in Detroit, the instrumentation throughout is absolutely fantastic, a throwback to the classic country sound without being a slave to it, helped no doubt by her choice of musicians who are intentionally not all from a trad country background….saying that, there’s some incredible pedal steel courtesy of Detroit’s Dave Feeny whose credits include playing on Loretta Lynn’s Grammy award winning album ” Van Lear Rose”.
Unlike the title track, the remaining songs are generally slower, pensive, blues infused ballads, several of the most moving focussing on the emotional fall out when a relationship ends, and while this is explored with reference to romance the recent passing of Rachel’s father, to whom she was particularly close, may well have had some bearing on both their writing and vocal delivery. In “The Hard Way”, for example. you can really sense her pain and anguish as she sings about being unable to move on from a relationship that is over, telling her ex that ” one day I’ll surrender my longing for you” . And in ” Picture On The Wall” she describes so well being trapped in her ” cell of memories” …” your love has gone but my heart don’t know it yet” (I love the honky tonk piano on this one!). But for me “Ghost of You” is the most poignant write about losing someone close, whether a lover, husband or anyone held dear. It’s stunningly beautiful arrangement is appropriately haunting ( steel and fiddle to the fore but I also particularly love the drums which drive it along) as Rachel sings of how “the ghost of you comes back to me, but only when I drink”. There’s a sneaky Johnny Cash reference in this one, too!!
If pushed to choose a favourite from this new release, I think ” Undecided Love” would be a strong contender, a heartbreaker of a song if ever there was one which is a wonderful take on the love triangle that has inspired so many songwriters…” Take all the time that you need to decide. I’ll still be here when she leaves you behind”…whatever you think of the message this sends out, I am confident you’ll adore it as much as I do!
I’ll leave you with the most recent single to be lifted from the album, “Great Mistake” , a cautionary tale about appreciating what you have before it’s too late, Rachel says of there song “It’s the awful relentless regret you feel when you know you’ve really messed up and hurt someone and now it’s too late. I think this song is one of my favourites on the album because it’s like one of those old country songs the are super sad but you could still dance to them. Not that I dance”.
More information about Rachel, links to her socials and album pre-orders ( including wonderful purple/gold vinyl copies!) can be found at rachelbrookemusic.com
Article written by Lesley Hastings (twitter.com/lesleyhastings)