When We're There I'll Let You Know
There are times amidst the chaos of living, when one comes across a song, a lyric, a melody, or a performance that offers a safe refuge to those who need a place to stop, rest, hope and dream. Such is the music of Rachel Wagner, a Northern California based singer-songwriter whose quiet energy and honest, lyrical passion build a safe harbor in the turbulent waters of life. Rachel's new album, "When We're There I'll Let You Know", displays a wide range of musical intensity ranging from sparse, intimate, piano led ballads, to lush string accompaniments and vocal layering, to solid, full band tracks with hints of jazz, rock and some may even say a bit of hip hop, though she would never admit to that. All of this diversity is held together by Rachel's smooth vocals expressing the deeply felt themes of love, loss, faith, hope, and longing, with disarming simplicity and gentleness. Rachel Wagner has spent years writing and performing her music, and every year is better than the last. Her childhood was filled with piano lessons, faithful practice and a love for singing. Rachel recalls, "I would lose myself at the piano, playing and singing any music I could get my hands on, from Neil Diamond to Amy Grant to show tunes." It wasn't until her college years that Rachel began to explore the craft of songwriting for herself. While working towards her degree in classical music, Rachel's true love was for the songs of songwriters like Julie Miller, Sam Phillips and Karen Peris of The Innocence Mission. "I think I was drawn to the raw lyrical honesty and the attention to poetic details of these writers. I especially love when writers capture moments that maybe no one else notices." Musically, she was also intrigued by the work of artists like Tori Amos, Sarah McLachlan and more recently, Sufjan Stevens. She began to develop her own repertoire and started occasionally performing at local establishments. Rachel's first full length album entitled "Everyday Things" was self produced, recorded at home, and released in October 2006. Rachel talks about the making of that first album. "My husband, Jon, and I bought a computer and having no idea what we were doing, dove head first into trying to learn how we could go about recording an album. We took it one baby step at a time and made a ton of mistakes, but it was a lot of fun and such a great learning experience." In the meantime, Rachel also began hosting annual house concerts, packing in as many people as could fit into her living room. When two of her favorite bands, Over the Rhine and HEM, came through town in May of 2006, Rachel had the pleasure of being the local opener at the concert. When asked about the last 17 years of songwriting Rachel states, "This is what I love to do, and I only enjoy it more as the years go by. The older I get, the more life experience I have to draw from and the richer the songs become." That richness is evident on Rachel's new album, "When We're There I'll Let You Know", a title which infers the sense of a journey. She explains, " I really pay a lot of attention to the contrasts in life...sorrow, joy, difficulty and hope. Just like any journey has it's ups and downs and changes in scenery, I think this music kind of spans it's own terrain. It's so important to be honest about the suffering we all deal with in life, but to also keep in mind that there is always hope to continue on." This can be seen in one of the more produced tracks on the album, "Through the Darkness", which wrestles with the cynicism that creeps in during the dark times, and yet still offers the hope that there will be light again. Also, the song "Nowhere Place", which is possibly the most bare bones, intimate track on the album, portrays a beautiful melancholy sense of being lost, alone, and found anew. Rachel's piano tracks are sometimes driving, sometimes laid back and often creatively sparse, leaving the listener room to breathe and soak in the insightful lyrics. Rachel's co-producer, Josh Grayem (aka Odame'), influenced by bands like Radiohead and Tool, lends his creative influence and unique guitar lines to further draw in the listener. With the completion of this album, Rachel is looking forward to a Borders Bookstore tour spanning from Reno, Nevada down to San Francisco and the surrounding Bay Area. True to her songs, and true to herself, Rachel delivers a genuine performance, creating an atmosphere in which her listeners feel as comfortable as if they were in her living room. She is steadily finding her audience, with her strikingly honest and poetic lyrics and whether it be a lonely cello line, a quirky guitar idea, soothing warm vocals, or intense and careful rhythms, "When We're There I'll Let You Know" has arrived at it's destination and truly is a shelter in the storm.