Hush The Wild Horses
Skinny Dennis Records
Raw and Articulate Americana That Eases Between Shadow and Light.
It’s odd how ‘fate’ plays a hand in life, isn’t it? Or, as my father used to say; “God acts in mysterious ways.”
A few weeks ago I was having a beer with a friend I’d not seen in a year or so and during the conversation he asked, “Can you remember that woman we saw in that cafe in Tynemouth?” I scratched my head and eventually remembered her name as Rachel Harrington; and we both wondered whatever happened to her.
Two days later this album dropped on the hall mat!
Spooky, or what?????
Apparently she’s been ill and subsequently took a couple of years, that stretched to 8 ‘off’; and as part of her therapy began rescuing horses, which has rekindled her love of music …… which took her to a Mary Gauthier songwriting retreat and here is the result.
While I own two of her previous four releases I haven’t played them in years; and deliberately avoided them while listening this week, for fear of pre-judgement.
The first thing you will notice is the stark beauty of the recording; this is Americana in it’s purest form; starting with Hush The Wild Horses itself, which has a violently strummed acoustic guitar, militaristic drumbeat a maudlin fiddle accompany Rachel’s pained vocals.
It has to be said that ‘there aren’t many laughs here’ as Rachel delves deep into the darkest recesses of her heart for these stories; many of which sound quite cathartic; none more so than Child of God which finds the singer only barely restraining herself from screaming and possibly even crying as she tells a harrowing tale of a child’s sexual abuse (her own actually.) Truth really is stranger than fiction in this case.
I hadn’t noticed until earlier today how not just the dark subject matter of her songs, but the timbre in her voice and even the way she actually sings reminds me of Joni Mitchell circa Blue!
The other name that sprung to mind was Guy Clark; and it wasn’t until I finally read the Press Release that Rachel tells us that her beautiful song Susanna is actually a tribute to the Great Man; who is/was one of her all-time heroes. (Serendipity again?)
Which in its own way puts her powerful Vietnam based songs into perspective; starting with Mekong Delta, about on her own Uncle’s experiences in Vietnam and then the rocking and rolling Drop Zone; but most especially The Barn; a subtly deceptive tale based on a story about her Mother’s first love which will bring tears to a glass eye.
While there is more than enough shade here; there is also plenty of light ……. with Rachel pouring her heart out in the brittle love songs I Meant to Go To Memphis and the delightful Save Yourself; which is Americana in its rawest form.
I say ‘Americana’ which is the best way I can describe these songs, as they conjure up cinematic imagery in a way we associate with filmmakers as disparate as John Ford and David Lynch.
I’m actually selecting two songs as my joint Favourite Songs; If Wishes Were Horses and Drinking About You, which both transcend what we think of as Americana Music and even Country although both fit very comfortably into either genre.
While the subject matter here is often challenging, it will also resonate with many people of ‘a certain age’ and many of whom will find solace in Rachel Harrington’s words, while her Love Songs; not always easy on the ear manage to shine a light in a way very few modern songwriters can achieve in such an eloquent manner.
Released 6th September 2019