Rachel Baiman released one of my favourite songs of last year, the stunning Shame from the album of the same name, which exposed the hypocrisy of men and religion in a fiery three minutes. On this follow EP, Thanksgiving, she continues to explore modern life and ideas, in an old timey folk style. The honesty and urgency of her message and music is as engaging as ever.
Singing about homeless people always has the potential to veer towards Another Day in Paradise cliches, but thankfully opening track Tent City manages to avoid the obvious pitfalls of this theme. Baiman uses the first person narrative to inhabit the character and give their story sympathy and a vivid sense of realism. The narrator has fallen on hard times and has ended up living in Tent City – still they don’t linger on their sorrows or ask for our pity. Instead the repeated refrain is Come visit me some time, a quiet request to be treated with dignity despite the circumstances. It’s a surprisingly upbeat and catchy bluegrass song, reminding us that home is where you make it, even if you have been reduced to nothing.
Introspective title track, Thanksgiving, evokes a darker and more troubling atmosphere. The annual diner that brings families together contains a bitter irony in its history – the feast has come from another’s famine. The song was also inspired by the recent Dakota Pipeline protests and the ongoing issues faced by indigenous people. Baiman, like the best folk artists before her, is unafraid to confront spirits from the past.
Despite the unease of that song, this is an EP which cannot keep the joy from bubbling to the surface. If you like country music then Madison Tennessee is the place and song for you. This is a catchy little ode to finding your way home and the playing is as perfect as you’d hope to hear (she is assisted by Molly Tuttle). Baiman sings of ‘playing songs made popular back in 1923, raising the roof in a little white house’ and this collective spirit is world’s away from the cold, brutal heart of modern American politics.
Final song Times Like These is a duet with Josh Oliver about the troubling world around us. Sometimes to survive you need to blow up your TV, move to the country, eat a lot of peaches. Baiman sees love as the only solution to the horrors, Put down your paper, turn off the news / won’t you come closer and kick off your shoes. Recently married Baiman wants to remind us that the only way we are going to get through the collective pain of life is by loving each other.
Thanksgiving explores some difficult themes with a sympathetic heart. What’s wonderful about this little EP is how life affirming the music is, and that really is something to be thankful for.