As a member of Chris Robley’s band the Fear of Heights, keyboardist/vocalist Rachel Taylor Brown had already endeared herself to me with her warmth and unique charm. Then I heard the opening strains of her album Half Hours With The Lower Creatures, and knew that there was so much more to Rachel than I could have imagined. I mean, the woman made music out of cash registers, essentially walking a fine line between serious metaphor and blatant absurdity. And it worked! As I found out, this time and times before, she’s always got something interesting going on.
When Rachel Taylor Brown arrived to pick me up from Chris Robley’s home, I was standing at the doorway, providing a safe buffer zone between Rachel and Chris’ ailing wife, Krissy. Not wanting to pass her illness over to Rachel, Krissy refrained from getting too close. Rachel took it one step further and stayed about 7 feet from the door. She had just received her first, minty fresh shipment of her latest CD, Susan Storm’s Ugly Sister and Other Saints and Superheroes, and was intent upon delivering a copy to Krissy. Rachel tossed the CD into the doorway, and it landed by my foot. I bent down to pick it up.
“Don’t you run off with that now! You’ll get your copy later,” Rachel excitedly admonished as I handed the CD to Krissy. Then we were off.
The previous night, Krissy, Chris and I had listened to an early mix of Rachel’s album as we were making our way over to the Aladdin for a Norfolk & Western show (opening for Mirah) that Chris would be playing in. In the song “St Fina,” Rachel had left in the lyric “Jesus, my boyfriend.” This was pure sacrilege. And music to my ears. It was also exactly what Rachel had described last time we talked – a “smaller” album than her previous disc, 2008’s Half Hours With the Lower Creatures. Smaller in the arrangements, and also much shorter in length.
Rachel remarked in our chat that she could have made two separate albums out of the saints and superhero characters she used as subjects for her songs, though in my review, I went one further and suggested that each song could have been the basis for a concept album.
There was much to talk about, and you get a taste of it here — the crazy saints who inspired the songs, the imagination behind the superhero backstories, and a small peek at the tools of Rachel’s trade, including those toy pianos that were so prominent on Creatures. (One thing you won’t hear is a tangential conversation on the Catholic church’s use of saints as what Stephen Colbert once referred to as “God’s customer service department… or as Rachel described them, “the hymen between you and the Lord.” God, I love this woman!)
Best of all is the performance footage, which shows a side of Rachel’s music that few have witnessed till now. She’s not exactly the love song type, as you’ve probably figured out if you’ve read this far. But she did write one, and it’s unlike any you’ve heard before. And only Rachel could have written this song. Like many of the songs that have been shared in this series, “Estate Sale” has been etched pretty deeply into my consciousness since it was played for me.
Rachel Taylor Brown – “Estate Sale”