Eagle-eyed music lovers may have spotted South Dakota’s Rachel Ries playing as part of Anais Mitchell’s band on last year’s delightful Young Man in America tour, including a memorable gig at Brighton’s Blind Tiger. Ries had previously released the collaborative Country EP in tandem with Mitchell in 2008, and the two have remained kindred musical spirits, sharing a gift for nuanced songwriting and emotionally engaging lyricism.
Inquisitive listeners who took the opportunity to closely investigate Ries’s music after that Brighton show will have been richly rewarded in discovering an artist as layered and deeply edifying as Mitchell herself. Very much a rural spirit, but now relocated to Brooklyn, the songwriter, who was raised in a missionary household that seemingly instilled in her a profound love for both soul-searching musicality and a gift for self-reliance that manifests itself in some beguiling arts and crafts skills (she hand sewed all the beautiful covers for her recent Laurel Lake EP), is embarking on her first solo tour of the UK, including a pair of Brighton dates.
To listen to Laurel Lake is to be serenaded by a singer whose delicately confessional lyrics unfurl steadily as they drift across musical and thematic borders. The songs, recorded in a little house in Tennessee overlooking the EP’s eponymous lake, lay bare Ries’s thoughtfulness and humanity with such humour and honesty that their emotional clout sometimes only registers with repeat listens. On the lovely Holiest Day, she heads off to get milk from a local farm and imagines herself a kindred spirit to the farmer’s daughter. In this spirit of imagined sistership she half-jokingly asks if she can help milk the cows. “Annie looked away and said just come back in an hour…” comes the perhaps-unintentionally withering response.
The instrumentation is as undemonstratively precise as the wordplay, while the musical detailing is as pleasurable as those lovingly crafted EP covers, though Ries’s voice always remains the soul of the songs, plaintively stark and embraceably warm, sometimes in the same sentence. So much contemporary music (much of it lumped under the folk-music banner) lacks richness of thought and expression that there is a near-ascetic pleasure to listening to Ries’s work which feels like it has been gradually extracted from the singer’s psyche in the most natural way, unforced and all the more beautiful for it.
Ries plays a solo show at Latest on 17 April courtesy of The Vesuvius Club and is back in town as part of Brighton Fringe with Emily Baker on 4 May. Expect richly resonant and intimate musical experiences on both occasions, with lovely little threads of humour to sweeten the mixture.