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Rachel Garlin: Mondegreens
by George Graham
(Independent Release as broadcast on WVIA-FM 8/12/2020)
In these days of computer-driven pop, there remains no shortage of acoustic singer-songwriters, and as far as I am concerned, there is always room for another good one. And this week, we have a most worthwhile example who is out with a new album. It’s Rachel Garlin, and her new release, her third after a live recording and an EP, is called Mondegreens.
Rachel Garlin is a San Francisco resident and combines multi-layered lyrics, many of which may require an explanation of their origin, with tuneful melodies and Ms. Garlin’s pleasing vocals. The album is tastefully understated in its sound – some songs are just Ms. Garlin with her guitar, though other tracks feature a small, mostly acoustic band. The songs cover relationships, but also were inspired by things surrounding her in her life, such an old coin-operated photo booth that she acquired, and a song based on a theatrical piece about a girl confined to her home, and given a chance to get out. The album was produced by Julie Wolf, who as worked with Indigo Girls, Ani DiFranco and Carly Simon, and was mostly recorded at the Bay Area’s famous Fantasy Studios, as it was in the process of shutting down, due to financial difficulties and the building being sold. Among the supporting musicians is drummer Scott Amendola, who was part of Charlie Hunter’s band, bassist Todd Sickafoose, who played with Ani DiFranco, and guitarist James DePrato. But, as mentioned, producer Julie Wolf used a light touch with the production, keeping things quite intimate, the better to focus on the songs.
Opening is a piece called Capture Me, which was inspired by Ms. Garlin’s acquisition of the antique photo booth, and speculating on the lives of those being photographed, and a the dynamics of a relationship. The solo acoustic setting gives the song a great deal of charm. <<>>
Cheers to You considers someone who perhaps had to grow up too fast and falls victim to addiction. It’s given an appropriately more electric setting. <<>>
Earthquake Town pays tribute to her seismically active home town. The song has one of the album’s more interesting arrangements. <<>>
The title track, Mondegreens is based on a term for mis-hearing a lyric and giving it a new or different meaning, which can then have a life of its own. The song has a rather traditional folky sound, and the track has a good deal of charm. <<>>
Out There was inspired by the performance piece about a little girl who was confined to the indoors, but faced the prospect of going “out there” for the first time, and trepidations about what the would would bring. The solo acoustic setting with multi-tracked vocals conveys the innocence of the girl facing the world for the first time. <<>>
One of the most appealing tracks on the album is called Good Morning which is a kind of celebration of ordinary routine and family. It’s a synthesis of what this album does so well, with the tasteful acoustic arrangement and Ms. Garlin’s inviting vocals. <<>>
Perhaps the most surprising song on the album is Ms. Garlin’s cover of the Eagles’ Boys of Summer which is given a kind of melancholy-sounding acoustic treatment. <<>>
The album ends with Higher Ground which uses the analogy of a flood’s rising waters to address issues of personal resilience. <<>>
Rachel Garlin’s new album Mondegreens has all the right ingredients for an ideal singer-songwriter record – thoughtful lyrics, Ms. Garlin’s appealing, relaxed vocals, and a mostly acoustic setting that echoes the classic folkie configuration, but with tasteful and creative arrangement ideas. It’s a class act throughout, and an album that will reward subsequent listenings.
Our grade for audio quality is close to an “A.” Engineer Alberto Hernandez is someone who apparently knows how to deal with acoustic instruments, maintaining a warm inviting sound. Ms. Garlin’s vocals occasionally have a little more reverb than I would have used, but the sound is still pleasing and mostly intimate.
New singer-songwriter records continue at an undiminished pace, and it’s impossible for even the most devoted folk fan to get to hear very many of them. But in this crowded field, Rachel Garlin’s new release stands out by following the classic form and doing it exceptionally well.
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