With songwriting partner Brooks Robbins, Rachel Brooke continues the long list of amazing music coming from ladies of country. While I don’t pay much attention to mainstream country, I do know that Ashley McBryde, The Chicks, Dale Ann Bradley & Tina Adair, Marshall Chapman, Della Mae, Bonnie Whitmore, and Tami Neilson have released some of the finest music to have caressed these ears during a most trying of years.
While some folks may suggest Rachel Brooke comes with a sound reminiscent of Tammy Wynette, Kitty Wells, or Loretta Lynn, the touchstone to which I continually return is Tami Neilson, the Canadian singer/musician/songwriter who mastered her approach to retro-country sounds within the traditional confines of New Zealand.
Like Neilson, Brooke delves into the history of country music—stylistically, thematically, sonically—to find the essential elements to resonate with modern audiences. Whether exploring relationships, career, injustice, or heartbreak, Brooke, as does Neilson (quite remarkably on her masterful Chickaboom! album of earlier this year,) weaves sounds of the past into a contemporary vision of our present.
“The Loneliness in Me” does this as well as any song within this collection of twelve. Over a clip-clop rhythm, Brooke battles parental guilt, an overbearing boss, the Nashville system, independence, and isolation, all with sass (god, I hate that word, but it fits here,) self-assuredness, and aplomb, all the while fiddler Liz Sloan and the electric guitarist (one of Michael Cullen, Jeremy West, or Louis Osborn, I see) lay out all the particulars that make a country song country.
For almost forty minutes, Brooke and her studio companions take us on a journey far from (brother?) Andy Van Guilder’s Traverse City, Michigan studio. “It Won’t Be Long” takes us to “the galaxy beyond” where “the coyotes yell when your fire’s almost gone” (what an image, that) while “It Ain’t Over ‘Til You’re Crying” is a classic country heartbreaker with the twist of a stiletto—“you might be a good man, but you ain’t good enough.” As she sings, “It ain’t about you, baby- it’s all about me!” That salt being shaken on the cover? Straight into some guy’s open wounds.
Other standouts include “Lovells Stockade Blues,” “Great Mistake,” and the dramatic “The Awful Parts of Me.” The closing track, “I Miss It Like It’s Gone,” reminds me a little of a Jane Hawley song—open spaces, sparse notes, and the sound of the wind vocalized—and for this Albertan that is a wee bit of serendipitous magic.
Seldom does one encounter an album without a moment of filler, but The Loneliness in Me is one. An absolutely brilliant collection of shuffles and waltzes from start to finish.