Guest Review: Kate Logsdon on Rachel Baiman – Speakeasy Man – Beautiful and emotive bluegrass debut solo album

Rachel Baiman is a Midwest grown, Nashville based singer, songwriter, composer, banjo/fiddle player. Growing up in Illinois, she won numerous awards for her fiddle playing, eventually winning Illinois State Fiddle Champion at age 17. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Vanderbilt University with degrees in Anthropology and Music. Her music reflects these loves that she has for culture and skill. She loves that deep southern country-bluegrass–completing a great amount of research and work in this area, and she took a semester during college to study Scottish music traditions in Edinburgh. Rachel teaches violin, runs fiddle camps, and tours with two other musical groups–Ten String Symphony (a duo with Christian Sedelmyer), and Canadian folk band Oh My Darling. If she doesn’t seem amazing enough yet, we have great news–she has released a solo album.

Her first solo album, Speakeasy Man is truly a work of art. It is a reflection of Rachel’s skill, intelligence, and passion. I loved this album. It was recorded half in Scotland and half in Nashville and brings elegant technique home to raw Americana. The result is beautiful and emotive.

The title track, “Speakeasy Man”, was written by fellow fiddler Lucy Cochran. It’s a banjo song with fiddle dancing gracefully through harmonies and the spaces in between verses. Beautiful work. It’s an anthem to youth and hardship, working hard and growing up. It makes your hands and feet tap without permission.

“Anna Jane” was written by Rachel and Christian Sedelmyer– her partner in Ten String Symphony. It’s a song about a girl who brings life and grace to the places she goes. She represents love, giving purpose to the hopeless and renewing life to the downtrodden. She’s “like the rain, where she goes there’s life again.” Isn’t that what love does? Renews and refreshes, brings life. It’s a quiet and peaceful melody, banjo driven with strong rhythms. The Scottish and Southern influences are prominent in this sweet hopeful song.

There are a few purely instrumental pieces on this album: “Arrival of the Kiwis”, “The Tortoise and the Hare/Pinnacle Ridge”, “Thank You, Liz Carroll”, “Dog in the Making”, and “Nancy’s Waltz”. Each one is written, at least in part, by Rachel herself. Each one is a prime example of exactly what fiddlework should sound like. Beautiful, beautiful melodies and harmonies. The Scottish influence reigns supreme here, without being overbearing. These songs take you back to a time when people danced in the streets and sang in the fields. Maybe those times only exist in kids’ movies, but wherever and whenever they are, they were beautiful times and this is the soundtrack to them. If I had to pick a favorite, it would probably be “The Tortoise and the Hare/Pinnacle Ridge”–very simple, so elegant, incredibly moving. It feels like a mountain breeze then gently guides you to a festival where hundreds of people wearing bright colors are dancing in cobblestone streets.

“See That My Grave is Kept Clean” is a classic Blind Lemon Jefferson song. Rachel has taken it over and re-molded it from blues to bluegrass. She keeps the same basic melody, but adds a distinct Americana flavor. It’s soulful, harmonious, anthemic, the banjo picking is quick and beautiful. Her voice is clear with just a hint of sexy raspiness to it. It’s a quite different sound than the other tracks on this album. It’s a song about preparing for death and conjures images of funeral pyres next to deep southern bayous, but don’t let that turn you off–it is a truly beautiful song presented with great skill.

The song I needed the most on this album was “Winter’s Come and Gone”. I like winter but by this time of year, everyone north of the Mason-Dixon has got a bit of the February blues. “Winter’s Come and Gone” is a Gillian Welch song. This is a song about birds and spring time, the end of winter, being cold and spent and then redbirds start coming to the windowsill and telling us that winter is gone. Rachel has taken a beautiful country song by a great artist and made it classy! She’s added bright fiddle and banjo, and tight vocal harmonies. It gives me hope that it won’t be long until those red birds are at my windowsill. “So long now I’ve been out in the rain and snow, but winter’s come and gone. A little bird told me so.”

You should look into this album. It is top of the line. This girl is smart, talented, skillful, and interesting. She makes music that is unique and complex. I love her sound. Buy this album and play it in your car, or for your next dinner party. It’s a great treatment for winter blues and a perfect addition to more pleasant weather.

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