Listening to Rachel Harrington sing tales from her second album, City of Refuge, is akin to being sat in front of the fire by your great aunt Bess and told the stories that made her a woman in a time when wagons rolled and the fiddle and the banjo were played without a hint of retro irony.
City of Refuge is Harrington’s follow up to her debut record, The Bootleggers Daughter, a record that in 2007 received so much critical backslapping that it led BBC Radio Two’s country aficionado Bob Harris to claim that he had been left ‘enchanted’ and that ‘it was a contender for album of the year’. So, where do you go from such praise? Well you take some time out and return with a sophomore album that is packed with even more of life’s tales. Love? Death? God? Booze? Yep, City of Refuge is a record that has all of the biggies covered.
Oregon born Harrington has been compared with both alt-country favourite Gillian Welch and a young EmmyLou Harris and whilst the comparison is fair as these are ladies invariably linked with a passion for a heartfelt tune, Harrington’s country music is accompanied with a hint of blues and folk allowing her songs to be sung with such feeling and fervour that you can almost feel the heat of the South and the light-headedness of too much bar room whiskey.
Recorded in Tacoma, Washington and mixed in Nashville City of Refuge is a record packed with cautionary tales from the Americana songbook of life – opening track ‘Karen Kane’ is a lament about the perils of prostitution set to the accompanying melancholic sound of Tim O’Brien’s fiddle and Zak Borden’s dobro. ‘Old Time Religion/Working on a Building’ has such a sinful, burlesque feel to it that you can almost hear the whispers of clandestine meetings, whereas, track four ‘Truman’ comes at you with such a foot stomping attitude that a whoop, a holler and a (stereotypical) yee-hah wouldn’t leave you too red-faced.
If you are looking for a record that’s going to take you through a sepia-tinted world of tales and trouble and let’s face it, who isn’t, then you really are not going to get anything more apt than this.
Words: Nikki Dodds