Published on September 9th, 2013 | by Ballard Lesemann0
Review: Songwriter Rachel Kate Bares Her Soul on ‘Love and Hate’
Rachel Kate w/ Love and Hate
Those listeners familiar with singer/songwriter Rachel Kate Gillon (a.k.a simply “Rachel Kate”) for her gutsy work as the lead vocalist for late rock band the Shaniqua Brown a few years ago – or for her cute, whimsical melodies and harmonies with acoustic combo Local Honeys — might want to brace themselves for the soul-baring declaration of independence on her solo debut, Rachel Kate w/ Love and Hate.
Gillon spent the better part of a year recording, mixing, and fine-tuning Love and Hate at the Jam Room studio in Columbia with engineers Jay Matheson and Jamey Rogers. Funded through a vibrant and clever Kickstarter campaign, the initial recording sessions took place more than a year ago. Gillon and her guest players tracked and mixed what they could along the way.
Supported by stripped-down instrumentation, the 10-song Love and Hate finds Gillon belting out magnificent country-styled anthems, haunting ballads, and beautifully grim torch songs. Elements of vintage country, folk-pop, and roots-rock predominate the collection, and above it all, Gillon sounds more furious and confident than ever.
Much of Love and Hate is intensely emotional and stressed. Lyrically, Gillon’s characters (and she’s often her own protagonist) are strained and under pressure, emerging from damaged relationships, battling life’s cruel twists and disappointments. Several songs find their way out of the hate and into something more positive. It seems Gillon plucked the heart from her chest, tore it open, dumped the contents, and reassembled them with bleak honesty, wit, and love.
Gillon’s soulful delivery rises from a combination of exasperation, disdain, and relief on the stirring lead-off song, “Hell is Your Home” (click the audio below). Drummer Steve Sancho (of Say Brother) provides a slappy beat while cellist Diego Villena accents each verse and chorus. Gillon sings of “crybabies” and “somber assholes” setting fires. It’s one of several confrontational moments on the album.
“The Institution” is a strummy, minor-key tune with an extra dose of reverb and a swingin’ country rhythm propelled by Sancho’s brushed snare drum. Gillon sings, “We don’t even know what we came for / We don’t even know why we’re here,” in the chorus, exploring the deepest and highest notes within her broad range. Accordion and mysterious singing make their way into in the echoes of the background.
The spare, slow-moving, acoustic guitar-driven “My Painting” marches steadily with a simple beat. Gillon metaphorically re-colors her life, starting with a black canvas and a new set of brushes. Warm harmonies — possibly from bassist Brad Edwardson (of the Flat Foot Floozies, the Royal Tinfoil, Local Honeys) — hints of xylophone, and low-toned cello fill the sound as the song gains momentum.
One of the most dynamic tracks on the album, “Lost” starts out sad, fragile, and waltzy, gradually accelerating into a powerful anthem about regaining emotional control and bouncing back from rough experiences. The sassy “Oh My God,” an actual waltz in 3/4 time signature, brings a bit of bratty fun and joy to the mix.
“Actress” — another slow-rolling, emotional anthem — touches on the themes of rejuvenation and recovery, with a main character who “needs to be rewinded to a start when she was blinded.” Vocally, Gillon soars in each chorus with sweeping, triumphant “whoah-oh’s.”
Innocent, nostalgic, and optimistic, the poppy country tune “Dancin’ Shoes” stands out as one of the more straightforward arrangements of the collection. Pushed along by a loose, lap-slappin’ drum beat, jangly acoustic guitar, and of beautiful fiddle-like cello, it’s one of the potential radio hits of Love and Hate.
The slow-burning blues number “Thanks Cheryl” slinks and saunters with a sleazy vibe that complements Gillon’s growly, soul lady delivery. Someone sings an amusingly phony trumpet solo during the bridge.
The syncopated rhythm and groove of the upbeat “Nobody’s Fool” creates a hypnotic feel, which suits Gillon’s occasional storytelling/spoken-word moments and extravagant melodic flourishes. It might be most modern-sounding track of the bunch.
Love and Hate navigates through a lot of painful heartache and smoky emotions, but it concludes on a loving note with the delicate, arpeggiated acoustic guitar ballad “Lullaby For Baby Jack and Esme.” A candid tape-recording of Gillon’s young niece, Esme James Dailey, singing and playing ukulele during a car ride makes its way into the track. As a full-circle return to a place of innocence and sweetness. it suits the dynamic of Love and Hate perfectly.
“Hell is Your Home”
Rachel Kate and her band will perform a CD release show at the Charleston Music Hall on Sat. Sept. 14. Songwriter Jordan Igoe and country act the Kernal open the show. Tickets are available for $12.50 ($15 at the door).
Top photo by J. Forest Photo.
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