Rachel Wise 2018
Mississippi belle steps out to lasso an idlewild wind and get carried away.
“If you wanna know how to live right, well, here’s your recipe”: this line from Rachel Wise’s first album should sum it up nicely, for her record is trying to strike a balance between various styles that define all things South. Anticipating country-by-numbers from the young lady’s debut may be natural, yet the listener with such a mindset is in for a few pleasant surprises, because she’s ready to rip the rulebook for female artists and throw lace out the window in favor of more tangible delights. It’s a mixed bag, of course, which is also natural, yet that’s the way of life – not easy but worth the struggle.
Not for nothing, there’s unexpected muscle in a resonant twang and vocal grit of the title track whose swaying, harmonica-caressed tension seems unbearably sweet, and once guitar riff is passed on to fiddle, the song’s flame burn even brighter to cast its light on subsequent pieces, like the sparkling “Washed” which will chase Rachel’s blues away with blues in the “fight fire with fire” manner. By the same token, “Shoulda Known Better” has a heavy violin attack written all over a jubilant Cajun dance and allowing communal spirit to kick Wise’s desperation out of the hoedown, while good-time rocking behind the cynical reverie of “Come On Home” is bound to bring smile to many a listener’s face.
Unfortunately, the faux triumph filling “American Dream” feels too awkward, what with social critique permeating its organ-oiled optimism, yet the red-hot funk of “Dreams” is dipped in much more righteous rage, with gospel choir fueling Rachel’s attack. Whereas “Unknown Stranger” is as unimpressive as its title, despite the presence of stately piano, a Twainian “Baby Bye Bye” tickles a pop-country nerve, although it’s the pedal-steel-propelled “Crazy Over Him” that lets Wise demonstrate the entire scope of her pipes’ emotionality. Perhaps, another punch would be a better finale than the ruminative prayer “Above The Clouds” which will reveal silver lining to the singer’s occasional sadness, but in a Southern setting this is only logical. Here’s quite a promise for better things to come.