As the release date approached for this album, I began to worry that maybe my expectations were too high, and I was possibly hyping it to the point where it could only be a letdown.
But what made this album so sexy to me was the idea of putting Rachel Brook’s unique voice and songwriting talents together with Lonesome’s mastery of arrangement and sound production,
I must give a disclaimer that this album is not for everyone. I’d love to say that you can knock out your holiday shopping by buying a crate of these, but the truth is gothic country is something you have to acquire a taste for. This is not music to get rowdy or bent to. It is music to sit back and listen to, and appreciate the mastery of sound that has been put into it; more like Tom Waits than Hank III.
Rachel has always spoken of her appreciation for Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, which is something that could be misunderstood in the wrong hands, and this is evident in parts of this album. You could call it “A Bitter Harvest” after the “Endless Summer,” but I would be worried that this somehow discounts the album, because though there is that element, this album is so much more. It is a pinnacle of gothic country, and at times it reaches the pinnacle of all music, as Lonesome Wyatt and Rachel Brooke tap the essence of their talents, and intertwine them flawlessly.
The album starts out with one of those Beach Boys-feeling tracks, “This Painful Summer”: an intelligent pick to start the album out with. But when I looked in the liner notes, this song was NOT written by Rachel, but by Lonesome. Same could be said for the other 50’s-style do-woppy track, and for lack of a better way to put it, the most “fun” track of the album, “Darkness”. The fact that these were Lonesome songs speaks to the nearly seemless integration of talent and inspiration that this project boasts.
The meat of the album comes with the two songs “Someday I’ll Fall” and “Crippled Farms.” These two songs are masterpieces. Not the masterpieces of this album, or even of the gothic country genre, but masterpieces, period. THIS is what I envisioned when this project was announced, and these songs exceeded all expectations. What Lonesome does with Rachel’s voice on “Someday I’ll Fall” is as mesmerizing and seemingly unattainable as freehanding a perfect circle. And where and how Lonesome procures the sounds he uses, and how he has the vision to see those sounds weaving through his songs and creating foundations for the music I will never know.
Another standout track is “Give Up and Die.” Lonesome’s songsmithing is there, but this song really rests on two unbelievable, superlative vocal performances by two superb singers. Both seem to almost dare themselves with the vocal range they chose to sing the song at, teasing their limits and abilities. Even if you think that most of this album is a bunch of weird noise mumbo jumbo, this is a song that can speak to everyone with its solid singer/songwriter prowess. In fact out of all the great songs on this album, this might be the one that still sounds fresh to you no matter how many times you listen to it.
This album isn’t without warts, just like every album. Individually, “Only the Booze” is a good song, but after being lulled into almost a catatonic state with “Someday I’ll Fall” and “Crippled Farms,” the upbeat nature and loudness of this song came across as jarring and harsh while listening to the album cover to cover. Albums like this I think depend on the continuity of the song order more so than others, and though I wouldn’t second guess the order of most of the songs, this is the exception. I understand what they were aiming at: to change up the mood of the album after a slow, dark point. It also took me a bit to warm up to the tracks “Never Forget” and “Empty House,” but the more I listened, the more I liked them.
In my opinion, this is the best album Lonesome Wyatt has ever made. I would say the same about Rachel Brooke, but with this caveat: As a Rachel Brooke fan, I am still waiting for that one album that really highlights all of her talents as a songwriter, singer, and musician. Rachel has a big bag of tricks, and though this album highlights some that have never been seen before, there are more that my ear yearns for that I know are lurking within her. She can tear into bluegrass. She’s been a drummer in a punk band before. I can imagine this is how Emmylou Harris fans might have felt as it seemed like everyone wanted to use her talents in their projects, but didn’t see that she had the talent to do her own thing as well.
I’m sure some will hear this album, or even just look at the track names like “Darkness” and “Give Up and Die” and think this is all a little over the top like an annoying emo kid. But this is the style, and this is genre. It’s not for everyone, but A Bitter Harvest has made my nomination ballot for Album of the Year.
(note: Rachel Brooke and Lonesome Wyatt are the guests and featured artists on this month’s It Burns When I Pee episode.)