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Rachel Harrington with Rod Clements, The Slaughtered Lamb, Clerkenwell, August 9th 2010

August 17, 2010

Rachel Harrington‘s The Bootlegger’s Daughter was one of my favourite records of 2007. It’s a refreshing slice of straightforward country music written, sung and played well. And by country music, I mean music from the countryside – including backwoods, creeks, hollows and all the other weird places of America – rather than the ‘Country’ of Nashville. Her follow-up, City Of Refuge, was equally impressive, but this was the first time I’ve been able to catch up with her live.

Mr P had come with me in a strictly under-age capacity, but I figured a small club playing this sort of music isn’t going to turn away a young guitar-man who’s eager to learn (and musically steal) from good musicians. Thanks, Will… And that’s Mr P’s ‘action’ photo below. Accompanying Rachel on this tour is Lindisfarne veteran Rod Clements, who’s also appeared and played with Bert Jansch, Ralph McTell and others over the years. His presence was much appreciated in giving some variety to the evening that, as I’ve mentioned before, can be very difficult to pull off if you’re just a solo singer with a guitar.

The pair started with Karen Kane, from City Of Refuge, and Shoeless Joe, from The Bootlegger’s Daughter. The latter is a well-observed baseball song and pinpoints the traps and snares of fame and fortune:
The boys treated me real good, I can’t complain,
Even when they asked me throw the game.
Did the best I could but let a few get by,
Press lit me up for that, made my Momma cry.
I left the courthouse with my good name
,
A boy looked up at me, handin’ me my shame,
He said, “Hey Joe say it ain’t so,
Tell me it ain’t true…

That’s definitely one The Baseball Project could add to their excellent repertoire. Next was Mississippi John Hurt’s Louis Collins, a great old song that just reeks of old America. As some one who hates pinning artists down by genres, I was amused to read Hurt’s Wikipedia entry: “Hurt’s influence spanned several music genres including blues, country, bluegrass, folk and contemporary rock and roll.” Given that his earliest ‘hits’ were ragtime, I guess that covers pretty much every popular music genre with the exception of jazz-fusion and hiphop.

Rod then took centre stage for two nice songs of his own, Stamping Ground and Can’t Do Right For Doing Wrong, and his warm dobro-playing added a roundedness to the sound and was a perfect complement to Rachel’s guitar and voice. For the next song, though, Rachel sang a cappella – a beautiful rendition of Untitled from The Bootlegger’s Daughter:
The well is deep with water,
The well is deep my son,
The hills of green and lustre,
The glades of gold are spun.
Our prayers are in the seedlings,
Our dreams are in the sun,
To the gates of Eden reaching
Till the harvest moon has come.

We were then treated to a trio of new songs from the album that’s soon to be released – Goodbye Amsterdam, You’ll Do and a gospel number, He Started Building My Mansion In Heaven Today. This last one reflects Rachel’s Oregon upbringing in a ‘right-wing radical Pentecostalist’ family, the bonds of which she hasn’t entirely shaken off, at least musically.

After a beer break (bottled Sierra Nevada Pale Ale for me, Coke for Mr P) the pair came back with Sunshine Girl, the song from The Bootlegger’s Daughter that Bob Harris played a lot on his Radio 2 show, for which Rachel was clearly very grateful. Whisperin’ Bob has lots of followers in this country and there are other North American artists whose UK careers have been boosted by Bob – for instance, thanks to Bob, Sam Baker is probably better known here than he is in the USA, with the exception of his native Texas.

Then Rachel sang an intense version of Up The River by Laura Viers, a fellow Oregonian, and we stayed in the Pacific North West with Spokane, off the new record. Rod chipped in with a lighter take on Lindisfarne’s mega-hit Meet Me On The Corner and then the pair played a new one, Here In My Bed, and mentioned that they’d rehearsed before the tour in Rod’s hometown of Rothbury, which had only recently got out of the papers following its Raoul Moat infamy. Scary.

Finally, we got a drinking road-song from Rod, Whiskey Highway, and another new one from Rachel called House Of Cards. They returned for two deserved encores, Under The Big Top, from City Of Refuge and another sing-along gospel number, I Don’t Want To Get Adjusted To This World. It had been a fine evening of old-time Americana with a singer-songwritery twist, and the pair were also genial hosts, with the two of them cracking jokes and Rod teasing Rachel for her ‘Mary Poppins’ fake English accent – which she does very well, I might add.

Rachel’s one of those hard-working musicians who hits the road for most of the year, working the clubs, and recording her own material and releasing it herself. These one- or two-people operations are perfectly sustainable if you’re a good enough musician, but I wonder if it’s the hard work bit that gets most wannabes worried. For too long, the major labels have pampered their stars into thinking they don’t have to do it for themselves, but there are no new major-label stars any more. I have an inkling that we might look back on the current shake-up in the music biz and see it as a good thing rather than a disaster, for now the spotlight is fairly and squarely on the music and the people who make it.

Here are Rachel and Rod from the show singing Karen Kane and Up The River:

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. August 17, 2010 8:16 pm

    Ok, you’ve persuaded me sufficiently to get me to download 3-4 tracks from eMusic as a ‘sampler’ – they have the first two albums. Which tracks should they be? Shoeless Joe, Untitled, Sunshine Girl?

  2. brandnewguy permalink*
    August 18, 2010 8:50 am

    I’d say those three were just right, perhaps adding Louis Collins if you can squeeze four tracks. That gives you a fair range of her singer-songwritery, a cappella, folk and trad country songs. Hope you enjoy them 🙂

  3. August 19, 2010 7:29 pm

    ReT write up!

    Just wanted to let you guys know, Rachel’s new record Celilo Falls is now available for download and preview at rachelharrington.bandcamp.com

    I produced the album, as well her 2nd record, City of Refuge. The album features Ronnie McCoury from Del McCoury Band as well as Rod Clements and some other great players like Dan Salini, Colby Sander, and Jon Hamar.

    • brandnewguy permalink*
      August 19, 2010 7:57 pm

      Thanks, Evan! I’ll definitely be getting that. Loved the new songs.

      • August 19, 2010 8:06 pm

        Absolutely! Rachel and Rod were on Bob Harris’ Country show again today. They played Here In My Bed, as well as a few other songw. The record is at the plant being pressed right now but we couldn’t wait so got the blessing to out it up on Bandcamp. You can hear the entire record there. We really wanted to get it into people’s hands as soon as possible.

        Anyway, great writing and thanks for helping people understand the changes in the industry. You are right, there will be fewer and fewer big stars but more and more good music. There were something like 5,000 CDs released worldwide in 2003. Last year, that number was over 30,000. People still love music but with so much more available, everyone is selling less. It is somewhat like television and the explosion of programming that happened with cable tv.

        I encourage everyone to check out some of Rachel’s peers, too, like Holly O’Reilly, Jenee Halstead, and Joe Iadanza. There is a lot of great music being made right now.

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