December 21st, 2011 | by ROBERT HAM Music | Posted In: Cut of the Day

Cut of the Day, Rachel Taylor Brown, "City of Angels," Songs Without a Home (self-released)

     
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 This is likely going to make me sound like the aging music writer that I try to deny that I am, but here goes: back in the days when I was a serious CD/cassette buyer, I used to love picking up CD singles of my favorite bands/artists because it guaranteed a few bonus tracks that gave me another facet of said band/artist that to grapple with. Usually, this meant a cover song or two, a remix of the title track, or - if I was really lucky - a stripped down version of a song from the band's most recent album or one that had yet to be released. It was a peek into the sanctum sanctorum of the creative process. 

Well, that's at least what came to mind as I listened through the latest release by one of Portland's best singer/songwriters Rachel Taylor Brown. Recorded during the sessions for her last full-length World So Sweet, Brown says that "these are some old songs that my engineer and producer Jeff Stuart Saltzman suggested I get down during a little break in recording." So, with just a mic and a guitar (or a piano on some tracks), she laid the tracks down, one after the other, warts and all. 


Well, it's not quite that simple. True to form, Brown adds vocal harmonies to almost all the songs, but what is missing is the usual dense arrangements that elevates much of her work into the pop stratosphere. The effect of just her voice - doubled or trebled or on its own with a simple guitar line to keep it aloft - is as soul shaking as it gets. And, as usual, her lyrics carry the brunt of the song's weight. 

Here, on "City of Angels," she uses the history of California's land/water grabs that occurred in the early part of the 20th century (go grab the film Chinatown on iTunes for a quick, dirty history on the subject) as a cautionary tale for the Klamath Valley. It's some bitter medicine that Brown's sugary vocal and lilting melody helps go down a little easier. 
 
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