Bristol based Rachael Dadd’s feet pretty much only touch ground when she hits the stage. For the past two or so years she has been touring almost constantly; playing shows in England and further afield Japan, whilst in-between times; stitching craft things and painting personalised record sleeves for sale at gigs.
After the Ant Fight (2009) is a collection of piano ballads and more heavily instrumented tracks with rootsy folk at their centre, all projected by a voice that seamlessly flits between a contemporary Regina Spektor and timeless Anne Briggs.
While banjo is the dominate instrument on record there is an exceedingly varied use of drums, piano, trumpet, oboe, string arrangements – most of which are played by Dadd herself. She sites Sufjan Stevens as a favourite banjo player but being a female singer songwriter of the dust and dirt I can’t help but liken her to Gillian Welch, though she is not necessarily as dark.
That said there is a certain fear for the natural world that underpins many tracks. Dadd herself stated in an interview with Spiral Earth that the technology and cars of the modern world “all seem really unnatural” to her and so her music is a form of escapism to simplicity. There is still a bouncy, witty quality to her song writing however and it is this carefree air that has the ability to raise the issues of mass production and our place on earth as a cog in a machine (“Ant and Bee”) in a way that never comes across as downtrodden observation, but more an inverse appreciation of the simpler things. This is also true of “O Wind” in which she rejects modernity and seems to ask the Earth for forgiveness, as she proclaims “and now you’re watching us undo ourselves”.
One of the standout tracks on the album is “Two Sisters”, a reworking of centuries old murder ballad “The Twa Sisters”. Opening with just vocals and banjo it builds up to harmonies and delicate yet full instrumentation mirroring the song’s progression by reaching its climax as the tragic tale reaches its pivotal point. Performed by Tom Waits, Okkervil River and Jim Moray in the past, Dadd lends a tenderness and empathy; with female harmonies and shifting perspectives; to this nightmarish folklore of a girl who drowns her sister over sexual jealousy.
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The album as a whole offers bursts of energy, counteracting these with a staid poignancy, often within the same track. Channelling Joni Mitchell circa Blue on “Until We Fall Apart”, Dadd strips the track to its bones before proceeding to flesh it out over its duration. This is a familiar characteristic across much of the LP and we find ourselves chasing the songs as they dart back and forth: the artist’s skill for both chopping and changing tempos as well as sifting instruments in and out of the mix highlighting her originality in marrying traditional folk with more contemporary song constructions.
Until we Fall Apart:
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With a song writing ability that shuns the confines of time and place Rachael Dadd offers us contemplation on modernity versus nature, the search for contentment in opening track “Following the Geese”, a condemned woman’s story in “The Age of the Clock” and elementary yet endearing lyrics about “stepping on banana skins” and “setting traps of needles and pins”.
A timelessly unique voice, musician and song smith who, always being on tour, we really have no excuse not to investigate!
You can buy all Rachael’s albums from her Myspace