Given the calibre of the work she had recorded with her sister, Amy, over the past several years, there was every reason to expect that Rachel Beck’s first record as a solo artist would be good.
But, I was not prepared for just how good Beck’s eponymous debut would prove to be.
When I say this is the kind of record that careers are built on I am not exaggerating.
There is nothing about this record that I do not like.
Beck clearly establishes herself here as a force to be reckoned with, both as a songwriter and as a performer.
Produced by Daniel Ledwell at his Echo Lake studio in Nova Scotia, the record boasts seven new original songs. Beck penned six of the seven on her own and co-wrote the seventh with her sister.
Setting out on her own to make this record was a big move for Beck, but it’s not the only big move she’s made here. While the records she made with her sister were an artful blending of folk and pop this record is much more of a pop record than anything she’s done before. That’s not to say the folk element is no longer present, it’s just more subdued. The one notable exception is This Little Light, the track she co-wrote with her sister, where the folk influence is front and centre.
In offering her thoughts on the record, Beck said it had been her intention to combine the heart and honesty of folk with the hooks and sparkle of pop.
She has most certainly done that.
The songs on this record are deeply personal songs and putting them out there for all to hear and to experience could not have been easy at times. But other songwriters have told me the hardest songs to write are usually the songs that bring the most personal satisfaction, as well as helping you deal with the things in life that have been weighing you down.
“While writing the album, I looked inward more than I have ever done before,” Beck says. “ When You Left’ helped me process a winter of devastating loss, ‘Fire In the Sky’ is an anthem of hope and ‘Nothing In Between’ is a self-portrait in song.”
The songs are beautifully arranged and orchestrated, using primarily piano, violin, viola and cello, with bass and drums where needed, like “Hearts On Fire” and “Fire In the Sky”. There is a lovely sense of balance to this record. The instrumental tracks are top-drawer, but they never overpower or take the focus away from Beck’s vocals.
And those vocals are superb. Beck has more power than I realized, she has a lovely range and there is tremendous passion in her voice. On a track like Rewind, for example, the beauty of the vocals was simply stunning.
Beck played piano, organ and percussion on the record. Sister Amy provided background vocals, drums and banjitar. Daniel Ledwell laid down the bass and guitar tracks. Her string section featured Kinley Dowling on violin and viola and Natalie Williams Calhoun on cello. Additional background vocals came from Leah Jordan.
This is one of those records I will go back to many times. Choice offerings here include “When You Left”, “Fire in the Sky”, “Rewind” and “This Little Light”.
This record should do wonderful things for Beck. I have only one criticism to offer. At just seven songs it was too short. I wanted more.
(Rating 3 1/2 out of 5 stars)
After racking up critical acclaim as half of the folk/pop duo The Beck Sisters, Rachel Beck has taken the bold step of making her first solo record.
Beck’s eponymous debut was recorded at Daniel Ledwell’s studio at Echo Lake. In addition to producing the record Ledwell played guitar, bass and synthesizer on these sessions.
Beck wrote six of the seven songs here and co-wrote the seventh song with her sister, Amy.
Doug Gallant is a freelance writer and well-known connoisseur of a wide variety of music. His On Track column will appear in The Guardian every second Saturday. To comment on what he has to say or to offer suggestions for future reviews, email him at email@example.com.