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The Graham Album Review #2020

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Rachelle Garniez: Gone to Glory
by George Graham

(Independent release as broadcast on WVIA-FM 3/25/2020)

Among solo performers, singer-songwriters tend to dominate in the realm of music we cover on Mixed Bag and this album review series. It’s almost a given that artists sing their own songs. But this week we have a new recording by a vocalist and arranger who is not the composer of any of the music on her new CD. It’s Rachelle Garniez and her new release is called Gone to Glory. Ms. Garniez is by no means someone you would call a regular cover artist. The songs she does, from a sources running from Della Reese to Motorhead, she essentially reinvents with often unexpected arrangements, many of them imbued with theatrical or cabaret influence, which which has marked some of Ms. Garniez’ past music.

Ms. Garniez is a native New Yorker. Her parents were a classical pianist and a European born professor of French literature. At age 17, she left home and spent a year in Europe, including in Venice and France, where she started playing folk songs on the street and busking.

After she returned to New York, she continued playing on the streets, including in the subways. She also got an accordion which has become prominent in her performances. She started a band called The Fortunate Few, which released several albums going back to the mid 1990s.

The new release features her creative arrangements, with Ms. Garniez being a multi-instrumentalist playing piano, accordion, harmonium and other keyboard instruments as well as some guitar. Her main backing band on the album includes viola player Karen Waltuch, acoustic bassist Derek Nievergelt, and drummer and percussionist Dave Cole. But there is a horn section, a string quartet and some backing vocalists. One could infer from the long list of musicians that this would be a big wall-of-sound production, but instead it often sounds intimate with a with a strong helping of theatrical influence. Some of the arrangements are dark and others are sort of over-the-top in their theatricality. One might call this album a kind of female version of Tom Waits, except that all the material consists of cover tunes. But the arrangements are such that, at least for the rock and pop compositions, the texture of the song is sufficiently reworked that one does not immediately realize the origins of the songs. They include material from the musical Hair, songs recorded by Glen Campbell, Leonard Cohen, David Bowie, Mel Tillis, Prince and Aretha Frankin, to name a few of the origins of the album’s fourteen tracks.

Opening is a song by the metal band Motorhead, with an arrangement that is about as diametrically opposite as it is possible to get. Killed by Death gets the full theatrical cabaret treatment, dominated by Ms. Garniez’ accordion, with contributions from the brass section. <<>>

Following is a tune by Prince called Raspberry Beret, which runs toward a Cajun sound. It’s interesting hearing this song’s lyrics sung by a woman. <<>>

The David Bowie song Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps), is also taken to an entirely different place musically than the original, with a kind of mutant funk texture. <<>>

The album includes one traditional folk song, a kind of dirge called The Day Is Past and Gone, which Ms. Garniez makes even spookier with her droning harmonium. <<>>

An old fashioned ballad, once recorded by Della Reese, Don’t You Know is given an appropriately sentimental treatment. <<>>

The Mel Tillis country song Ruby (Don’t Take Your Love to Town) is also rendered in a quiet contemplative direction. It’s nicely done. <<>>

Another of the musical upendings on the album is 100 Days, 100 Nights by the late retro soul singer Sharon Jones with her group the Dap Kings. Ms. Ganriez turns it into a vaguely decadent-sounding tango. <<>>

Ms. Garniez does another distinctive cover of a country hit, Glen Campbell’s Rhinestone Cowboy which is done as a quiet piano ballad with a prominent viola. <<>>

Gone to Glory the new release by creative vocalist and arranger Rachelle Garniez is a very distinctive record that turns a lot of songs on their heads, with theatrical or cabaret influenced version of tunes that were originally light-years from that style. Several of the songs she picked were by artists who had recently passed away, such as David Bowie, Prince, Mose Allison, Aretha Franklin, Mel Tillis, Glen Campbell, Della Reese and Leonard Cohen. Perhaps that was the source of the album’s title Gone to Glory. Ms. Garniez and her group skillfully take the songs to stylistic places they have probably never been before. But the result is a satisfying and entertaining album, whose music and arrangements are such that you can’t help but be drawn into them.

Our grade for sound quality is close to an A. The recording respects the almost entirely acoustic instrumentation, and Ms. Garniez’ vocal is captured with the intimacy that the arrangements call for.

With so many singer-songwriters on the scene, Rachel Garniez has distinguished herself with her often stunning arrangements of a surprisingly wide spectrum of cover material.

(c) Copyright 2020 George D. Graham. All rights reserved.
This review may not be copied to another Web site without written permission.

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This page last updated March 29, 2020