Like so many American roots artists touring the UK this time of the year the lure is a show at Celtic Connections. With Rachel Baiman heading north of the border later in her tour, the folk of Smethwick (and those travelling in from other areas) gave her a warm welcome in exchange for a fantastic multi-dimensional display of all things good in Americana music of this persuasion.
Appearing in a trio format helped form a highly entertaining show with Rachel supported wonderfully by Cy Winstanley on guitar and Shelby Means on upright bass. The audience was spoilt on many fronts including both the harmonies collaborated and the individual spotlights on each of the trio as musicians in their own right. Distinctively, there is so much to savour in the voice of Rachel Baiman, which is so reminiscent to Gillian Welch, and more recent comparisons with Maya de Vitry, who coincidentally released her debut solo album on the day of this gig.
Rachel, Cy and Shelby came on stage around quarter past nine, following a short set by Midlands regular Amit Dattani, who adopted his common role of sharing exquisite finger picking guitar skills and lo-fi folk songs inspired largely by random meandering thoughts. Once in place the trio set about filling the room with a fistful of delightful tunes with the main focus on Rachel’s SHAME album from a couple of years ago and the short EP titled THANKSGIVING released late last year.
Alongside the raft of excellent songs, Rachel effortlessly switched between guitar, banjo and fiddle to show her instrumental diversity and prowess. She leaves the impression of not governed by a particular one, but a capability to mix and match the mood. Between the songs we learned a little about Rachel herself, but more importantly, the inspiration and focus on issue-related pieces like ‘Shame’, ‘Thanksgiving’ and ‘Tent City’. Like so many of her touring compatriots, the heavy desire to promote social justice and unity by the power of song is a wonderful trait and there was not too much encouragement needed for folks to join in at the end of ‘Never Tire of the Road’ with a little rendition of Woody Guthrie’s ‘All You Fascists Bound To Lose’.
Just sitting back and capturing the vibes of the performance paid off the entrance fee tenfold, with the icing on the cake existing in the tracks ‘Thinkin’ on You’ and ‘Wicked Spell’. Two standout candidates should the desire to nominate arise.
Referring back to Molly Tuttle, the closing song on the evening was a duet Rachel recorded with Molly and released on the EP. ‘Madison Tennessee’ is a good slice of country to join the bluegrass, folk and many other types delved into, and a fitting departure gift for all. While on the topic of country, Cy took us down Texas way for his opportunity to share a tune, with ‘Bobby Where Did You Learn to Dance’ turning Thimblemill Library into a two-stepping dance hall for a brief three minutes, although one of a passive nature. Shelby’s offering was a softer effort in ‘Listen Sister’, but one highlighting a distinct vocal style to complement the evening.
An hour and half after taking the stage, Rachel Baiman retired to the merch table for busy exchanges and the added satisfaction that the success of last year’s show had been built upon. We were left with no doubt that a special artist had just passed through town with the realisation that this should never be taken for granted. Friday night at Thimblemill Library was a gathering of smart people and four gifted musicians. The two entities exist side by side and fuel each other. Let us keep Rachel Baiman, in addition to many artists of her standing and ability, touring over here on a regular basis and together the mutual appreciation will forge ahead.