Rachel Garlin “The Ballad of Madelyne & Therese”

Mixtape Media, 2023

Quality with a capital Q. For fans that love their lyrics and songwriters that speak openly from the heart.

Artwork for 'Rachel Garlin' AlbumSome background to this album probably would benefit the reader. ‘Garlin’ says “I’ve always been fascinated by stories about women-loving-women throughout history. How/when/where have these relationships and identities existed during different eras and across cultures? Narrowing my focus to two women in 1940s New York, I explored my interest by writing some historical fiction on the topic”. She hopes it will become a musical one day. If it does, don’t expect a ‘Stephen Sondheim’ kind of musical with theatrical voices by the like of ‘Mandy Patinkin’ or ‘Bernadette Peters’. These are songs in the traditional popular music sense.

As a stand-alone album (and away from the stage) the first thing that springs to mind is Garlin’s voice and its similarity to Suzanne Vega. Her relaxed tone and lovely harmonies come to life in the slower songs. There are not many up-tempo numbers which is a slight shame as the opener ‘Havin Slept On It’ bolts out the door to the listener, marred only by an over-the-top saxophone solo that makes it sound a little dated, like it could have been taken from a 1980s record. It’s a little out of place against the other tracks.

It is a mixed-bag album with some tracks that have a continuity of sound with similar musical instruments on most tracks, i.e. fender rhodes, swirling organ pads and electric guitar. The playing is quite safe in the main, occasionally lacking a little grit on a few songs but still enjoyable if you are not looking for a modern-sounding album. The band are very tight, that’s for sure. The bass player in particular stands out with a few McCartney-esque descending bass lines that work so well.

Lyrically the album has some wonderful lines, which are pure poetry. I could quote many but here is an example  from ‘Nothing has Changed’:

“I showed him my reflection
In the mirror we broke
I shared a poem by Donahue
A dream and a sigh
He spit it out: you crack me open
Like a Northern Red Oak
With a hole in the middle
And a deep divide
Thanksgiving day, a little stormy
And I knew his mother was alone
I missed her
We shared a sigh
In the autumn rain”

Talent is abundant behind this album, that is very clear, worth repeated playing to let the nuances sink in. If Suzanne Vega had made this it would be seen as one of her best albums. She could learn a lot from Rachel Garlin.

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