On the front cover of her new album ‘Shame‘ folk singer Rachel Baiman holds a burning violin aloft in a beautiful show of defiance. She’s read the books, she’s heard all the old protest songs and she’s here to sing about religion, love and the state of the world as she sees it.
‘Many times I’ve passed a church and wished that I believed,’ is the brilliant opening line to title track, Shame, and really sets the tone for this whole album. Things might be easier if she had something to believe in but at the same time she knows there’s nothing worse than organised religion and the crap they spout in the name of God. Shame is something to reject, you can’t let the narrow minded judgments of others get you down. But at the same time she’s not going to sit back and let people use their religion to demean and destroy others without taking a stand. This song uses traditional folk instruments but there’s a swagger to the sound, a confidence in the modern arrangements which is mirrored in the words.
This is an album about love too, explored best on ‘Wicked Spell‘ and ‘Something to Lose’. There’s also a real seductive feeling to ‘I Could’ve Been Your Lover Too’ and a sense of longing continues into ‘Thinkin’ On You‘. This has some great fiddle on it and the mix of folk, bluegrass, Scottish and country influences are complimented by Baiman’s direct style of personal lyricism.
Getting Ready To Start (Getting Ready) is fun, with more of a vintage pop sensibility in the melody, making you want to clap along. Never Tire of The Road is an optimistic view of life on tour. The journey can be dark sometimes but being out there travelling on the highway is a worthwhile place to be.
The final song takes some of its lyrics and inspiration from an Ishmael Reed poem called ‘When I Die I Will Go to Jazz’ and this is an uplifting end to the album. After all, music is the only true religion. Baiman herself called it ‘A hymn for the music worshipping crowd’. She changes the lyrics to incorporate more of her own ideology and when she sings Spare me from perfection, bring on that scratchy fiddle you know she sings the truth. What some might see as flawed often turns out to be so much more valuable because of its imperfections.
Rachel Baiman has recently created Folk Fights Back, a political cause which started as a protest against Trump and that rebellious spirit is present throughout the album. Shame has an honesty of feeling both in the music and the lyrics which makes this album burn brighter with every listen.