Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Rachel Harrington - Kitchen Garden, Kings Heath, Birmingham. Tuesday 8th August 2017

It was as if time had stood still, five years gone in the blink of an eye. Technically, it was longer as the 2012 tour saw Rachel Harrington in a very different guise when fronting her honky tonk band The Knockouts. This was more akin to the days where she toured often in a duo format, and it was these frequent tours, which effectively took their toll leading to an eventual lengthy hiatus. Now refreshed, and the guitar handled on a daily basis rather than locked away, Rachel has made tentative yet significant steps to returning to the fold. While bold on the surface, a decent run of dates thousands of miles from your home on the North West Pacific coast saw a reunion with many familiar faces that have supported her career with great dedication over the years.

Although not a stranger to playing venues in the West Midlands, remarkably this was Rachel’s first show at the Kitchen Garden in Birmingham, a setting perfectly suited for her mode of acoustic delivery. A dedicated bunch of folks gathered to witness her return to the area and it was a delightful experience to confirm that none of the craft, sincerity and confidence was missing. Maybe the ultimate step of re-convening the knack of penning original material has yet to be reached, but Rachel skilfully utilised a range of locker attributes to present a highly enjoyable evening of who she is from a musical perspective.

This is primarily the architect of three impressive solo album releases between 2007 and 2011, leaving a catalogue of songs that sounded fresh nearly a decade on. Rachel decided to make the first set almost entirely full of material from these records, including self-penned efforts such as ‘Goodbye Amsterdam’, ‘He Started Building My Mansion in Heaven’, ‘You’ll Do’ and ‘Shoeless Joe’. It was literally moments after stepping into the performance area before Rachel hit her stride, both pristinely delivering the songs, and providing warm, insightful and charming inter-song chat. Some stories were throwback, but the overall feel of the first half was that the show emerged as endearing to newbies as those who have been literally yards in front of Rachel performing for close on a decade. Perhaps the pick of these songs on the evening was ‘Spokane’ from the CELILO FALLS album.

The second half saw Rachel share a host of her favourite songs from other writers. This was probably a safe option in light of no new material and entirely reasonable when you think of the risk an artist is taking when making such a long trip in somewhat unusual circumstances. While the songs were fairly standard offerings – ‘Unknown Legend’, ‘If I Needed You’, ‘Dublin Blues’ and ‘It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels’ for starters – Rachel does have the knack of knocking out a good cover, with the added bonus of explaining the choice entertainingly well. This led to the audience learning of close encounters with Guy Clark, confusing Young with Springsteen and getting an early feel for classic country music. Alternately, Rachel has not steered away from slotting the odd cover song in her records with ‘Ode to Billy Joe’, both making the CITY OF REFUGE album and tonight’s set list.

If the evening began with an air of Rachel Harrington familiarity, it certainly ended on one as well. Old time gospel favourite ‘I Don’t Want to Get Adjusted to This World’ has concluded many a Rachel Harrington show in the past, so why not a debut performance at Birmingham’s Kitchen Garden in 2017. This crowned a fabulous show that rolled back the years in an unassuming and assured way. Where/What next, for Rachel Harrington – the performing/recording artist - is probably best left for another day. The present is all about a renewal and a successful one at that. 

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