The field of American songwriting, at least the kind we like to remember, never seems to grow too crowded. There’s always room for one more, particularly if the delivery and style can be likened to a heritage of memorable works. I remember being dragged to Joel Plaskett’s hotel room the second night of Folk Alliance 2008 where an impromptu songwriter’s circle had formed. I had this sense that I was smack in the middle of some of the best songwriters going — Colin Gilmore, Peter Case, Cory Branan, Adam Levy, Rose Cousins — and I was told to pay special attention to a woman named Rachel Ries. When we walked in, everyone was sitting on beds or floor or chairs, probably 15 people crammed into a small hotel room, and within a few minutes, Rachel began playing the song I’m featuring today, “Hands To Water”. — More after the jump –
There was an aching, a deep yearning, a soulful streaming longing in the words and in the refrain of the song and in the harmonies provided by Ariel Bolles, one whose melancholy created an immediate connection with everyone listening. Wiping tears from my face, I became instantly fascinated with who and what I had just heard so that I could share it with you.
Hailing from Chicago by way of South Dakota, Rachel’s intimately and directly powerful songwriting stems from classical training in piano, violin, viola and voice. It’s not quite folk, it’s not quite jazz, it’s not quite bluegrass and it’s not quite swing: it’s a beautiful melding of all these styles into a series of gripping and dramatic songs. With the addition of The Brawny Angels (Ariel Bolles, Alisa Rose and Adam Roszkiewicz), the simple, nuanced frameworks of her songwriting places her in a class of her own: vibrant and soaring one minute, down and diving the next. This represents the highest level of what we’re calling “indie folk” these days, and to hear and watch her is a rare and precious treat. It is as if Patsy Cline and John Prine had a terrific love child who grew up listening to Billie Holiday songs, learned to play and then unleashed their creation on the world.
I would recommend her latest album Without a Bird without reservation, and I hope that like me, hearing this song will have you longing for more. Be on the lookout for a 10″ split featuring Rachel doing country duets with Anais Mitchell on Righteous Babe Records very soon.