The Rainbow Girls “Welcome to Whatever”

Independent, 2023

Independently minded, should be a breakthrough record from California (not) folk trio.

The Rainbow Girls may be a new name to most in the UK but they are 10 years into a highly individual career and they have, at the 6th attempt, produced their finest work to date, a record of substantial, if tender, pleasures. One that is both deeply personal yet stridently political and manages to offer up a set of tunes, at once bedroom intimate and sorority house firecracker. At their core the Rainbow Girls have a vibrant independent spirit that shines from every moment of the strikingly engaging ‘Welcome to Whatever’.

The Rainbow Girls style themselves as a Northern Californian folk trio, and they are, more often than not, styled by others in a similar vein. Whilst they may share some similarities of attitude or approach with likewise labelled artists such as Lula Wiles, Our Native Daughters or Della Mae soundwise they offer something very different indeed. Pigeonholing them(selves) in the folk basket does them no favours at all and may deprive them of a significant chunk of audience that would love this record.

‘Welcome to Whatever’ may be a rootsier sounding collection than a lot of their previous output and it may even offer some gentler moments in the shape of ‘Jonah’s Song’ or ‘Bedroom Lobby’ but as a whole it remains very firmly rooted to the indie end of what might be called the Indie-folk genre. In fact The Rainbow Girls would doubtless balk at the idea but if we were to run this review through a distorted Boygenius filter then we would be very close to the sound coming out of the speakers. As such it is interesting that The Rainbow Girls would self-select the folk genre to present what they do. Such a designation delineates a very particular niche and outlines their (potential) audience in a limiting way. It is easy to imagine that a significant part of the Boygenius audience would run a mile from folk, even though there is supposedly more genre fluidity these days. If they did, they would be missing a treat.

It is not that The Rainbow Girls sound like wannabe Boygenius doppelgangers and they certainly do not (yet) share their runaway success. Indeed there is an entirely laudable and pleasing self-sufficiency to this record that offers another reason to be warmly disposed to it. The genesis of ‘Welcome to Whatever’ was in their homespun Monday night YouTube sessions during the pandemic, the reception of which encouraged the RGs (currently a trio of Erin Chapin, Caitlin Gowdey and Vanessa May) to record a new LP. In order to do this they turned to Crowdfunding from their fervent and sizable community of fans. Things have recently taken a positive turn for the band, with the reception of this record and eminent Americana publication No Depression nominating them as their Spotlight Band for December.

‘Welcome to Whatever’ could be described as musically flirtatious, engaging with the various influences it travels between with a light touch and slinky smile. It’s not bombastic or in your face, yet it manages to command the attention in a powerful and absorbing way. Boygenius may be the most immediate touchpoint but ‘City slickers’ bounds into view like Waxahatchee having a great uncomplicated night out with Liz Phair. ‘Unwavering’ is laced with the Cowboy Junkies spectral guitar and intimate sounding harmonies whilst ‘Patriotism Killed the Cat’ has a poppier Mumford’s or Hurray for the Riff Raff vibe, then ‘Jonah’s Song’ offers up a sultry Duke and the King atmosphere.

The album’s two flagship tracks, the ones by which it should really be judged are ‘No Limits’ a sumptuous, HI studios-inspired song with a guest appearance by The California Honeydrops and a lyric that reflects on May’s experiences of questioning and embracing her full identity after a junior school encounter. Perhaps best of all is ‘Compassion in the Nth Degree’, which begins with a gentle twangy riff and builds over irreverent and acerbic social commentary into a distorted, barely held together Butterflies of Love guitar upheaval

Despite what may seem like an ‘indie-cana’ jukebox effect, ‘Welcome to Whatever’ still holds together as a coherent and cohesive piece of work. One which is rich with a multitude of delights for all but the most ardent of folk fans (perhaps!). Their world currently may be relatively small, it deserves to be much, much bigger and surely will be sooner rather than later.

9/10
9/10

About Guy Lincoln 73 Articles
Americana, New Country, Alt-country, No Depression, Twangcore, Cow-punk, Neo-traditionalists, Countrypolitan... whatever.
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Mark Howson

I really hope we get to see these guys in the UK this year. I know they’ve been over before but they really are something special.