Comfort Me With Apples is Manchester folk singer and musician Rachel Hillary’s second EP release this year and is a natural development of the sound which she has previously described as “poetry set to song”. Although I will admit that, having seen the bio on her Bandcamp page, referring to “fairy folk music”, I did approach Comfort Me With Apples warily, half-expecting a full-on dose of twee hippie chick acoustic meanderings. Thankfully, there’s a lot more to Rachel’s music than that and the EP has been something of a revelation.
Sweetheart opens this four-song set and although the influences of Joni Mitchell and Melanie Safka are evident in her vocal style, Rachel brings plenty of her own personality to this gently sardonic love song.
Apparently inspired by the fictional Elizabeth Bennet (from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice) and her love of walking, Lady Day doesn’t directly reference the nineteenth century novel of manners. Instead, Rachel takes an introspective look at the ups and downs of romance. Nigel Hillary’s harmonica adds a mournful air while Rachel’s overdubbed harmonies hint at an impressive vocal range beyond the whisky-and-cigarettes rawness of her performance here.
Rachel’s delicately insistent strumming moves the arrangement of Honey away from the more desultory feel of the first two songs. Lyrically, too, it rings the changes to offer an interesting perspective on the matrilinear links within families. While I personally find it hard to square the bioessentialism in Rachel’s commentary with my own feminist constructivist views – I’m not convinced that the personal histories of our mothers become “imprinted in a daughter’s DNA” – nevertheless it helps in contributing to what is, for me, the highlight of this set.
Sunflower Shoes brings the EP to a close with a dreamy reminiscence of warm summer days, bringing us back to the irrepressible optimism which is a trademark of Rachel’s music; once again her overdubbed harmonies are a treat to hear.
It’s always a pleasure to listen to musicians who place their art first and foremost and it’s clear that Rachel Hillary is one such person. Along with the drive to create, her voice and the range of subject matter on display throughout Comfort Me With Apples suggest that she also has the potential to reach larger audiences on her own terms.
Review by: Helen Gregory
25/09/2014 The Dockyard, Media City, Salford (as part of Salford Music Festival)