Rachel Brooke Brings Her Sweet Sorrow T0 Canton
Rachel Brooke is a little bit country, a little bit gothic and a little bit indescribable. She’s the rebel Southern belle who’s actually from Michigan. Her words are tough, yet elegant; her music is refreshingly simple and quietly suggests that Brooke herself is not. Critics and fans have said that she was born in the wrong time — and perhaps that’s true — but in the midst of synthetic dance music’s assault on current culture, an unadorned and honest song stands out in a novel way. With two full-length solo albums and a four-song vinyl 7-inch, Brooke is an intriguing and badass arrival to the neo-traditional country scene.
She’s the tough chick who can keep up with the boys in chores and whiskey shots, then pick up a banjo and silence everyone in the saloon with her beautiful twang and poetic lyrics. Her music is paradoxically old-timey and fresh; it transports you to a hazy rural daydream.
Brooke is a storyteller, which lends well to this niche while allowing her to make it her own with a modern edge. Reflecting on what’s persona and what’s genuine in songwriting, she says, “I write because I’m inspired by a certain feeling, or thought. But the great part of writing is that you get to create, and expand and exaggerate on those feelings if you want to.”
Brooke follows the tradition and influence of the Carter family and Hank Williams. She plays a slew of instruments, including upright bass and mandolin. Her father plays banjo in “Don’t Forget Me When I Die” and her brother is credited with engineering her albums. The family legacy gives Rachel an intrinsic connection with her music and an understanding of country that transcends her years.
Those familiar with the authentic country Brooke creates know the level of vocal control and range that she possesses, but it’s easy to overlook because she makes it sound effortless. Her stories unravel as she croons and yodels, vacillating from folk to bluegrass to formulate her own brand of gothic country, achieving something both archetypal and innovative.
She is confident in the future of music in its truer form. “Things are going too fast in the world. Everything is fast and easy. Even music. I am not sure if humans are even able to adapt to these changes as fast as they are happening,” she said. “But country and blues and roots forms of music are simple. I honestly think there will be a point when people will be fed up with the lack of soul in overproduced, fake music. It’s already starting to happen.”
The production and sound in Brooke’s records make it seem as if they were recorded decades ago, probably in a smoke-filled studio in Nashville (she actually does most recording at home). Her first two albums sound like the result of Southern summers filled with country pranks and imperfect romances. Her most recent release, a 7-inch entitled “Late Night Lover,” is a more personal, bare-bones reflection of who she is.
Some songs, like “Wolves” and “Late Night Lover,” are unembellished and hauntingly honest. Others, like “Mean Kind of Blues,” have a more full-rock guitar sound. Then there’s “The Barnyard,” a true roots song with a delightfully morbid twist. In this song, Brooke describes a romantic romp in the barn gone awry when the man in question utters her best friend’s name. Spoiler alert: She beats him with a rusty hammer and then finishes him off with her dad’s gun. Fuck yeah.
Moving forward, Brooke plans to work with a full band and explore opportunities to collaborate with others. She has proved that she needs nothing but a guitar and that voice, so it will be interesting to see what she can create with a fuller sound. She is excited for the shift, too: “I feel like I have a lot of sounds swirling around in my head, and I need to experiment with them.”
Rachel Brooke’s spring tour will stop at Now That’s Class on April 28 and the Buzzbin Shop on April 27.