Written by: Pat King, Special to CC2K
I don’t listen to a ton of new music, but Rachel Brooke’s tunes make me feel like I’m listening to new old music. I’m always at home, comforted, overwhelmed with emotion, weirded out, left shaking. Oddly enough, the only album of hers I haven’t purchased or listened to, except for maybe a song or two on Youtube, is her previous collaboration with Lonesome Wyatt, A Bitter Harvest. I’m not sure why. Just one of those things, I guess.
As far as Lonesome Wyatt goes, I’ve listened to some of his music as one half of Those Poor Bastards. I also reviewed an album from his solo project, Lonesome Wyatt and the Holy Spooks on this site. Those Poor Bastards released Gospel Haunted in 2010 and it became one of my favorite records. Ever. I probably listen to it at least a couple times per month. I’m not sure why I haven’t paid much more than casual attention to the band’s other music, but I suspect it has something to do with a fear that it won’t stack up to Gospel Haunted. An absurd thought, to be sure, but part of my neurotic consciousness nonetheless.
Anyway, all this is to say that it would probably take a lot for a Lonesome Wyatt / Rachel Brooke album to disappoint me. Bad Omen met my expectations and confirmed something I’ve suspected for a long time: that these two artists are among the most interesting musicians working in the folk / Americana genre today.
Ever present on this album are Wyatt and Brooke’s other-worldly sounding vocals, processed so that the words seem to be coming from a distance away. You get a lost-in-the-woods kind of feeling, a gypsy-dance kind of metaphysical feeling, a gloomy love-conquers-all feeling. Sometimes the music is savage, almost violent. Sometimes it steals your breath with mourning beauty.
You are, perhaps, beginning to see why a part-time madman such as myself might like these songs.
Like all of Brooke’s work, and a lot of Wyatt’s too, the depression-era first family of country, the Carter Family, are ever present. There was always a natural lo-fi kind of gloom to the songs Sara Carter sang, especially to contemporary ears. Even the Carters’ love songs and gospel songs had a dark quality about them. This gloom is also present in every track on Bad Omen. Backwoods strangeness and brooding abounds.
This album can be listened to as a strange narrative in which Brooke and Wyatt play the same two lovers, as characters, from beginning to end. This is true especially when you consider the final song, “What Happens to our Love?” The song features vocals even further remote, with an echo more distant than any of the previous tracks. The voices fade away while they contemplate whether love lasts beyond death, and in what form. We’re left to ponder the answer on our own.