In many ways, Shame, the new album from 27-year-old Nashville Americana songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Rachel Baiman, is an exploration of growing up female in America. “I wasn’t necessarily trying to write songs that would be easy to listen to,” Baiman says of the project, “I wanted to write about reality, in all of it’s terror and beauty.” From the title track about abortion politics, to love, sex, and abuse in relationships, to classism and inequality in her re-write of Andy Irvine’s working class anthem “Never Tire of the Road,” the album is ambitious in its scope, yet remains cohesive through Baiman’s personal perspective. Despite the serious subject matter, the overall feeling of
the album remains light, with the tongue-in-cheek “Getting Ready to Start (Getting Ready)” and feel-good anthem “Let them Go To Heaven.” A departure from her stripped-down work with progressive folk duo 10 String Symphony, Shame is lush and varied in instrumentation and musical texture.
Inspired in equal parts by John Hartford and Courtney Barnett, Baiman’s influences span a wide range, but years spent playing traditional music shine through in the album’s firmly rooted sound. For recording and production, Baiman turned to the talents of Mandolin Orange’s Andrew Marlin. “At the time that I was writing the music for this record, I was listening to all North Carolina-made albums, including Mandolin Orange and the album Andrew produced for Josh Oliver (Oliver is also featured heavily on Shame).” Shortly after reaching out to Marlin, Baiman traveled to Chapel Hill, NC for three intensive days in the studio. “The energy was amazing,” Baiman says. “It became clear that we were making something really special that needed to be finished.”
Added to the musical intensity was the context of the material they were recording—namely, how the songwriting on Shame sits within the current American political climate. “I think what is happening in the country right now has really shifted my career priorities, and brought the folk music community together. We are all suddenly seeing our purpose come into focus, and feeling a renewed responsibility to be a voice of unity and resistance.” In addition to the release of her new solo album, Baiman is the co-founder of a new political group called Folk Fights Back, a musician-led national organization that puts together benefit concerts and awareness events in response to the Trump administration.
Alexa Rose has the rare ability to find strikingly original melodies that nevertheless sound like they must have existed for a long time, stored away maybe in the ether of creativity, self-evident and awaiting discovery. Moving deftly between complex dexterity and heart-tugging familiarity, Rose achieves a sound that pushes gently alongside the bright vocal experimentalism of Joni Mitchell and Joanna Newsom while maintaining the brassy attitude and simple refrains that run straight through American roots music from mountain ballads to rock n roll.
Rose spent her formative years curating original music in the Blue Ridge, releasing two albums in her early twenties. You can often catch her sporting her dusty Frye boots in some southern lagoon, or on the regional radio stations that spin her latest full-length release, “Low and Lonesome.” Written on a hand me down guitar from her mother, the title track is a toast to Rose’s heritage, and its anthem-like chorus haunts the listener with a somberness evocative of Gillian Welch.
Amidst the sea of earnestly soft-sung songs on the Americana circuit, Rose’s voice stands out with depth and complexity, capable of gymnastic yodels and deep resonance. Rose’s sound evokes the likes of Hurray for the Riff Raff and Margo Price, but she cultivates her own hard-working perspective without imitation or posturing. What separates her from the crowd is a tangible, relatable sense of hunger and realism about the sacrifices of the road, the elusiveness of fulfillment, and the bittersweetness of dreams.