Celilo Falls is Rachel Harrington’s third full length studio album and like the first two “The Bootlegger’s Daughter” and “City of Refuge” is a classy collection of songs packed full of bluegrass, folk, roots Americana, country and gospel melodies and tunes. The album is named after a stretch of waterfalls on the Columbia River and Harrington is pretty keen to ensure we all say it properly so has included the correct pronunciation, Suh-LIE-Low, on the album cover.
Opening track ‘House of Cards’ is one of only two tracks on the album not entirely self penned by Harrington being a co-write with album producer Evan Brubaker and after a slow start builds into a nice foot tapping opener in a classic Americana, bluegrass alt-country style. ‘Here In My Bed’ is a slower bluesier country affair and features some great slide guitar from Lindisfarne’s Rod Clements. Harrington’s vocal reminds me of Alison Krauss in places on this track and for me it is one of the albums highlights. ‘Little Pink’ is another nice melody over some picking guitar but is criminally short, that would be my only criticism of it though as it is two minutes of pure joy. Things get even more melancholy with the almost mournful ‘Goodbye Amsterdam’. A wonderfully sad melody is accentuated by the fiddle sound and Harrington’s feeling in the lyric is so authentic she actually manages to sound as though she is the saddest woman on the planet. The mood takes a turn for the better with the witty ‘You’ll Do’. The quirkiest and most accessible track on the album it should surely garner some favourable radio play if anyone ever has the sense to give it an airing. It is the most uptempo track on the album and features a clever lyric. With lines like “You’ll do the windows, I’ll trim the tree, you’ll do the dishes and then you’ll do me. A frog with no curse, I’ve done worse, Darlin you’ll do” it can’t help but raise a smile to go along with the tapping toe. The mood changes quickly back to the more sombre again with the gospel country tone of ‘He Started Building My Mansion In Heaven Today’. The title sounds like something from one of the old deep south slave songs and it has the feel of an old time traditional song despite being a new composition. The actual idea for the lyric came from Harrington’s grandfather when he replied to her asking how he was feeling.
‘You Don’t Know’ is another acoustic more straight up folky type of song which features some nice guitar and harmonica from Doug Wintch. The traditional song ‘Pretty Saro’ features a new lyric by Harrington as she didn’t like the original one but like the title the melody remains true to the traditional arrangement. However, the song features no music or instrumentation and is sung totally unaccompanied. Not an easy task even for the most talented singers but Harrington pulls it off without any difficulty. As a showcase for her vocal talent it couldn’t be better. ‘Bury Me Close’ is another slow sad song which tells the story of her grandfather’s reaction to the death of her grandmother. ‘Where Are You’ is the longest track on the album but strangely has the shortest lyric. The whole feel of the song in structure and delivery reminds me of the folkier tracks on the third and fourth Led Zeppelin albums. Not something which I expected to be writing here but there is definately something there that gives me that feeling. The only out and out cover on the album follows; an Art Hanlon track that has been recorded as ‘Last Sunday’ and ‘Vantage’ is here re-titled ‘Spokane’. A slow paced mournful bluesy tale of lost love it fits the mood of the album perfectly. ‘Let Me Sleep In Your Arms Tonight’ is another slow track featuring strings and fiddle which is just a little bit too old school country for my tastes but will have people reaching for the bourbon and the tissues in equal measure. The album closer ‘The Last Jubilee’ is another quirky little track depicting a heaven with Elvis and Hank Williams amongst others which has a melody and style which reminds me of something else but I can’t for the life of me think what it is.
Celilo Falls is an excellent album and shows that Harrington’s recording career is progressing in the right direction. Yes it may lack the one or two real standout songs of the first two albums but that of course maybe down to the fact that the overall standard is higher throughout this one so therefore the standouts are not so obvious. If I was to be critical I would suggest that the set as a whole could have done with a little more variety in pace and subject matter. It is a very downbeat mournful sort of album, with the obvious exception of ‘You’ll Do’, but even that has a sort of sad under current to it lyrically. Having said all that this is still probably Rachel Harrington’s most consistent and best overall album to date …… it is certainly her most personal.
© Martin Leedham. First publishe on RYM August 2011