Rachel Baiman “Common Nation Of Sorrow”

Signature Sounds, 2023

Poignant and honest album inspired by Baiman’s father’s activism.

Music and activism have always been regular soulmates – just think of the likes of Nina Simone, Joan Baez, Billy Holiday and Dolly Parton. Music has the power to brilliantly impact the listener with songs around equality, discrimination, segregation and environmentalism.

Songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Rachel Baiman has made an album inspired by her father’s interest in fringe politics, which was then seen as extreme and something she didn’t tell her friends. Things are very different now and this collection of mostly acoustic songs tells a range of stories of American capitalism and the individual and communal devastation it manifests. And what a lovely set of tunes they are.

It opens with the glorious’ Some Strange Notion’, which features the distinct drumming and vocals of Miles Miller (Sturgill Simpson/Tyler Childers), and was inspired by the idea of general activism. Musically, it’s got a similar feel to early Be Good Tanyas. Next we have ‘Annie‘, co-written with Erin Rae. The two linked creatively in lockdown, talking about their childhoods and ‘the desire to learn and grow up versus the beauty and comfort of innocence’ and it’s a great tune with some evocative whistling adding to the effective childhood feel. Both these first two songs are brief but glorious.

Baiman is the sole producer of this record – but she’s helped by Grammy award-winning engineer Sean Sullivan and mixer Tucker Martine (My Morning Jacket/The Decemberists/First Aid Kit).

There’s a fascinating back story to ‘Lovers and Leavers’ – Baiman has to cope with Brown Recluse spiders in her home, a tiny spider that can create a hole in the flesh and bone over time. This got her to try and find a creative link to further build on this idea and it was when she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and the intensity of the feelings she endured gave her the chorus metaphor – “there is no middle, only highs and lows’” It’s a lovely laid back shuffle and highly effective.

The inspiration of ‘Old Flame‘ is tragic in the extreme. Baiman was listening to the music of an ex-partner, writer and singer Luke Bell. It was a disastrous relationship by all accounts and not long after she wrote the song she found out that he’d been found dead in his car. She feels the song “rings very differently for me – I kind of sing it as a dedication”. All in all a lovely fiddle-drenched song that’s genuinely moving.

There’s not a bad track on this lovely album and their effectiveness ironically is aided by the fact that they never outstay their welcome; on every track you’re feeling wanting for more. Classy stuff.

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