Rachel Baiman Common Nation Of Sorrow
This month I’m calling attention to three distinctly different new releases, either one of which could have been my pick for the month. It’s tough to choose one over the others; splitting hairs, to coin a phrase.
If anyone is reading these little write-ups regularly, they will already know how smitten I’ve been with Arooj Aftab since discovering her last summer. This month she has released a new collaboration, Love in Exile, with pianist Vijay Iyer and bassist/mutli-instrumentalist Shahzad Ismaily. Recorded live in the studio and with little editing after the fact, it is a true document of the interplay between the three. The results are lush and lovely, bordering (but just short of) the line into ambient music. Perfect for Sunday morning or a rainy afternoon, for sure, but for everyday listening I’m still going to be spinning up her previous records, Bird Under Water and Vulture Prince,
Moving toward the decidedly not-ambient end of the spectrum, March brought us the new boygenius release, The Record. This is one of the most lyrically interesting albums in my recent memory, and the variety of songs here span the gamut from hymn-like a cappella tunes to hardscrabble power pop. And while I applaud that range, and there’s certainly not a bad song to be found here, ultimately there are two or three that seem far enough afield from the others that they make the record seem less cohesive than it might have been.
So it is that I arrive at this month’s pick, Common Nation Of Sorrow from Rachel Baiman. I briefly mentioned Baiman’s previous record, Cycles, back in June of 2021. At the time I remember thinking she sounded like Gillian Welch singing pop music. Well, this time the album steps further into country-flavored sounds and, in the case of one particular song, Bitter, squarely into the Gillian Welch vibe. Fiddles & banjos figure prominently throughout the record, on unflinchingly clear-eyed songs addressing subjects like oppression, depression, broken dreams, and other not-exactly-cheerful aspects of modern life. But they never become maudlin, and there’s no self-pity here. As I said in my few comments about Cycles, Baiman has a real gift for infusing hope and light into the despair and darkness she sings about.
Get some music in your ears, everybody!