Written by: Pat King, Special to CC2K
This is Rachel Brooke’s blues album, her jazz album, and it contains wonderful echos of Billie Holiday and Bessie Smith. But of course this is also very much a Rachel Brooke album. It’s intimately connected with her previous albums through Brooke’s unmistakably otherworldly voice and her gothic lyrics. A Killer’s Dream just might be her best album yet, and it’s a joy to hear.
This album was recorded live, as if an old Depression-era troupe of musicians had been resurrected and asked to play in a dusty church for one final show. Lucky for us, her band has as much passion for this kind of old music as Brooke does. In fact, it sounds as though they were always meant to play together.
A Killer’s Dream is meticulously constructed and each song is carefully placed. The overarching themes of the collection include affairs, loneliness, guilt, and unrest. It’s as if this whole thing was a collage of sadness so great that it could only come out in song.
The album begins with Brooke singing a short acapella chant to set the mood. Then her voice slowly fades and we drift off into dreams. It’s in the next song, Fox in a Henhouse, that the band makes its first appearance. This is a classically constructed blues number, and the first song about an affair. In this song, it’s the narrator who’s being cheated on. But as the album goes on we find that the infidelity goes both ways.
After a few more songs with the band, we’re treated to a nice suite of acoustic songs. Brooke is an excellent storyteller and her narrative songs are sometimes best with unobtrusive guitar strumming accompanying her voice. I’m glad she decided to include these on A Killer’s Dream.
Brooke eases her way back into using the full band with the awesome duet Old Faded Memory with Lonesome Wyatt of Those Poor Bastards. There are a lot of things to love about this song, not the least of which is Wyatt’s heartbreakingly mournful singing. In this song of lost love, the singers’ voices never harmonize, making their physical and emotional distance seem that much more real.
Black Bird is a singularly creepy song, even when you consider the wealth of spooky songs on this album. The bird is a silent witness to the narrator’s late-night transgressions. The theremin in the background is a nice touch.
The final track, A Killer’s Dream, is very fun. With its 60’s surf and girl group sound, this is a tune you can even dance to. Interestingly, it’s also the song Brooke chose for her first video, which recently made its debut on the CMT Edge website. It seemed a bit of an odd choice at first, though it would certainly qualify as the most “pop” song on the album, and perhaps the most accessible. Anyway, I hope it leads many more people to digging Brooke’s music.
Rachel Brooke’s albums are filled with haunting melodies and superbly crafted lyrics, and this collection is far from an exception. Rachel’s music is both nostalgic and startlingly modern. A Killer’s Dream will leave you feeling haunted, but never scared.
(To read more of Pat’s writing, please go to: www.themugwumpcorporation.com)