No stranger to London’s Green Note, having played several solo shows there in the past, Rachel Ries was back on the stage for this London show by her recently configured band, Her Crooked Heart. Their tour is showcasing their current album, ‘To Love To Leave To Live’ and indeed a theme based on just that cycle of life’s experience works across the set as a whole and within many individual tracks. Ries is a lively and candid raconteur and comes across as quite the Bohemian thinker. Media coverage has been very positive and the full band set up comprises the talented array of Siri Undlin, Adelyn Strei, and Hillary James across guitars, piano, synths, cellos, woodwinds, chopping and changing instruments across the set, with all providing harmonised backing vocals along the way.
Possible musical touchstones include Weather Station, Regina Spektor and Joni Mitchell in her ‘Blue’ phase in terms of a genre defying approach that draws variously on folk, jazz, pop, and rock – all done with a flexible approach to structure and indeed a multi-tentacled use of instrumentation. How often do you see a roots quartet where two members are on flute, as in ‘Holiest Day’ with its half sung/half spoken lyrics?
Ries pens many songs set in a moment where the specific setting sets off a train of reflection. ‘Waking Up’ describes the feeling of being to some extent an outsider at a family wedding populated largely by couples and young children, whilst ‘Courthouse’ narrates the filing of her divorce papers in 2016. Like much of the set it has that melancholic tone and content, here with Ries on an uncertain threshold of life, “I’ll be living where I’m falling”.
‘Pleasant Valley Reservoir’ is the ironic title for what is actually an aesthetically named sewage plant, but also a place where Ries finds a suitably isolated spot to muse on a relationship breakdown and relishing the isolation,“Am I lost if I’m where I choose to be?” It is one of several songs that describe a couple at a specific fraught and defining moment in a relationship. ‘Letters’ is another, where the narrator ponders, “On paper my options are narrowing tonight.” This was followed by ‘Windswept’, about Ries’s enthusiasm for meditation, which builds compellingly on a slow swirling melody. ‘Slow Road’ is closer to conventional guitar rock with her and James trading lead and rhythm electric guitar and nothing else in the mix.
Mid set, Ries played three numbers solo with just electric guitar and these tended more towards Americana soft rock/folk, with notes of Mses. Chapin Carpenter or Neilson Chapman, including the particularly poignant ‘Willow’ relating her grandmother’s days as a young woman in a rural community and the excellent ‘Summer Of Wandering’.
The set closed, appropriately, with ‘For A Song’, with the band stepping down from the stage and into the audience in this much-cherished venue to sing about “building a house where music lives / where I can live a long long time for a song.” Amen to that.