Rachel Taylor Brown has been getting a lot of good press lately (from NPR among others) and after listening to her new CD Half Hours with the Lower Creatures, it's easy to see why. I really enjoyed the vast majority of this very personal exposition. Each track has a subtitle to it, such as 'the goad,' 'waste,' 'whack,' etc., which I couldn't make much sense of but since I am a big fan of subtitles, parentheticals and the like, I think it's great. The first track I might've subtitled 'Trio for voice, Found Sounds and Toy Piano.' It's a lengthy, diverting opening that segues seamlessly into the second track (as does each track into the one that follows it.)
It's obvious from listening to this that RTB has issues with Judeo-Christianity (ahh, don't we all) but her way of expounding on it is honest and without overt malice. The most powerful track for me is passion (the goad), which is just what it says: a story about the passion of the Christ, only with an emphasis on its misuse in fleecing the flock. She's got a very clever, subtle way of staggering the relatively straightforward vocals and piano; there’s a story just underneath the text that you have to intuit (rather than interpret) by listening to the music. In another dead soldier in fallujah (waste), Brown cuts right to the chase and delivers a criticism of the war in Iraq with sensitivity and compassion, yet mercifully absent any tawdry schadenfreude at our boondoggle over there. After passion, the instrumental arlington and the penultimate track vireo, a brooding and organic dirge, are the strongest tracks for me. I detected hints of Tori Amos, Elliot Smith and Queen (a little too much of that one for my personal taste) here but from start to finish, Lower Creatures, is by and large a winner This album lives in the atmospherics, which are sometimes more difficult to create accurately than dazzling the listener with tricky music. Be prepared to sit down and listen to it in one sitting; it makes much more sense that way.