By Hal Horowitz
Ten tracks that combine unflinching looks in the mirror with a wider lens that probes today’s often frustrating financial inequities.
1. Some Strange Nation
3. Self Made Man
4. She Don’t Know What to Sing About Anymore
5. Lovers and Leavers
6. Bad Debt
7. Old Songs Never Die
9. Old Flame
10. Ways of the World
Rachel Baiman is in debt. She’s not alone.
The Nashville by way of Chicago singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist makes no secret of her fiscal condition, explaining; “Debt has been my constant companion throughout my adult life”.
She writes about that, and the underlying causes of the income inequality that affects others in the States (and elsewhere) on this, her third indie-folk collection.
That money situation is directly addressed on the waltz-time ‘Bad Debt’, as she sings in a fittingly resigned voice; “This debt is my prison / and I’ll never be free”. Her similarly melancholy fiddle enhances the song’s overall submission.
It’s just one of ten tracks combining unflinching looks in the mirror with a wider lens that probes today’s often frustrating financial inequities, one that Baiman examines with dark wit and occasional irony.
While this might sound like a dreary way to spend thirty minutes of your life, Baiman’s gifts as a compelling songwriter and captivating player keep these downbeat themes balanced with inventively performed, predominantly acoustic music.
Throughout the record, Baiman shifts easily from the personal to the socio-political. She dances from the meditative ‘Old Flame’, another waltz-time selection that reflects on the titular love whose fire hasn’t quite been extinguished, to the jaunty banjo country picking of ‘Self Made Man’, where she points her sharp tongue at those who find success by stepping on others.
The riveting ‘She Don’t Know What to Sing About Anymore’ observes how life can stomp on an artist’s (perhaps even hers) creativity with “She tried to sing out / Make some joyful sound / But that mean old world / Will sure get you down” as a bittersweet melody infused with banjo, mandolin and acoustic guitar flourishes behind her.
But she’s truly ‘Bitter’ because her profession results in exasperating economic straits. “What makes life worth living should pay / But I found no meaning / Nothing to believe in / Just men getting rich in the shade” she sings on the slow ballad, implying this may be her last chance to turn things around.
Hopefully, Rachel Baiman perseveres; her talents deserve far greater recognition. On ‘Old Songs Never Die’, she’s more optimistic about music, saying “There’s still so much joy to be found / When the days are getting dark and blue”.
That pleasure is evident, even if it’s somewhat obscured, on the most poignant of songs, as she delivers earnest, honest and moving performances that form Common Nation of Sorrow.
With any luck, it’ll also help pay some bills.
Rachel Baiman's 2023 album, Common Nation of Sorrow, is released March 31st via Signature Sounds. You can purchase the record from one of Holler's selected partners below:
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For more reviews and release dates for country music albums in 2023, see below: