Rachel Brown. Just Look My Way.
Self-released, 2012. Rachel Brown: http://www.rachelwearsch.com/
Pay no attention (for now) to all the other Rachel Browns out there, the classical musician, the R&B singer, the pop singer. I’m sure they’re all very nice. But the Northeast Ohio Rachel Brown (formerly Rachel Wearsch) inhabits that strange netherworld where country, rock, swing, and blues have no boundaries. She is a big-voiced singer in the tradition of Bonnie Raitt, Marcia Ball, and Emmylou Harris, who seems comfortable in any of these modes, or several at once. She’s been in the music business for quite some time (and released an album under her other name), but has not yet become incredibly famous, which is surprising. She also wrote or co-wrote all the songs. For someone with such a mature and sophisticated sound she seems to be somewhat behind schedule in recording. This album starts to make up for that.
Brown is joined by a group dubbed the Beatnik Playboys (apparently Bill Watson, Roy King, and Dave Huddleston, since their bios are on the web page), who are also quite versatile and back her admirably, along with a variety of guest musicians to round out the sound. The result is pretty spectacular, with a satisfying batch of thirteen songs, mostly about love in one form or another, each with a somewhat different sound but held together by Brown’s strong middle-range vocal authority.
Let’s divide the songs up by style, which isn’t so easy. Several are pretty straight country/honky tonk tunes, such as “So This is Love, “Peace in the Valley” (an original, not the gospel song), “Just Look My Way,” (a duet with one of the guys), and “I Was Alright till Now.” Each one is gem, although “So This is Love” is my favorite of the batch, with a George Jones feel that just doesn’t stop. “Adam and Helen” is more of a bluegrass tune about Brown’s parents, with sweet harmonies and nice banjo work. Bluesier tunes are represented by the closer, “I’m Gonna Fly,” a real burner that let’s her vocals soar, and features some fine electric guitar, organ, and harmonica solos. This one is my personal highlight. A lighter blues feel (say, in the Van Morrison vein), is found in “When I’m with You,” and we move into swing with the opener, “As We Speak.” Some of the others are difficult to categorize where Brown takes a more singer-songwriter approach, such as “Another Lifetime Ago” and “Just Words,” which is just fine. “You’re Not a Dream” even throws in a bit of gypsy/bluegrass combination for a change of pace, as if you need one.
The entire album has the feel of an artist with a great deal to share with the world, and who knows how to say it. This album is really quite impressive, and I hope Brown records another one soon. She’ll be performing at the Old 97 and the Barking Spider in the next few weeks. Go catch her act.
Personnel: Rachel Brown (vocals, piano, acoustic guitar), Bill Watson (upright bass, electric bass), Roy King (drums, percussion), Denny Jones (fiddle), Al Moss (pedal steel), Paul Kovac (mandolin, banjo, vocals), Brent Kirby (acoustic guitar, vocals), Dave Huddleston (electric guitar), Jack Kidney (harmonica), Jeff Rice (sax), Nate Jones (acoustic guitar), Chris Hanna (organ), Bob Corlett (accordion).
Tracks: As We Speak, Peace in the Valley, Another Lifetime Ago, Enjoy the Dance, Just Look My Way, Adam and Helen, Just Words, You’re not a Dream, What if, So This is Love, I Was Alright till Now, When I’m with You, I’m Gonna Fly.
The Grand Wazoo