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EP review: Rachel Sermanni “Everything Changes” (Folk Radio UK)

January 16, 2014

Rachel Sermanni - Everything ChangesSince the release of her debut album Under Mountains in 2012, Rachel Sermanni seems to have spent most of the time on the road across USA, Canada, Europe and Australia, so it’s a pleasure to hear at last her long-awaited new studio EP, Everything Changes. Recorded in New York with producer Alex Newport (Bloc Party, Frank Turner), Everything Changes comprises four songs: two new numbers and two reworkings of songs originally released on last year’s The Boathouse Sessions EP.

The first of the re-recordings, Two Birds, opens the set and it’s intriguing to hear how the song has developed in the intervening months. Taken at a fractionally faster tempo, the underlying structure and arrangements are much the same, yet the feel of the two versions is very different. The Boathouse Sessions version felt very much like a snapshot of a work in progress and, while the ‘live’ sound may have been exchanged for a more polished production, this in no way compromises the performance. Rachel’s voice is still very much to the fore, delicate and strong, while her skeletal acoustic guitar is fleshed out with Jen Austin’s piano and harmony vocals above a solid rhythm and a string arrangement which whirls and weaves like autumn leaves on the wind.

An intricate mandolin adorns Lay-Oh, a blues-infused lullaby in which traditional Appalachian folk and the more contemporary Americana sound happily rub shoulders. Rachel’s almost murmured vocals and some sweet harmonies over a tinkling piano and a muted drum shuffle combine to create something quite new and fresh-sounding which augurs well for the future.

Everything Changes, the title track and second new tune, apparently originally commissioned to accompany a film, returns to Rachel’s folk roots. Driven by her fingerstyle guitar behind her solo vocal, the introspective lyric is something with which even a casual listener could empathise. Again the interplay between the strings and staccato piano, awash with reverb, is both subtle and intense and draws you into the deep stillness of the song, to the point where you only realise you’ve been holding your breath for its entire duration when it reaches its end.

The EP closes with the second reworking, Black Hole – and it’s been through quite a radical transformation. In its original form on The Boathouse Sessions, it gained attention from many quarters (including picking up airplay on national radio) and this new version seems to have taken note of its commercial potential to create a very contemporary, glitchy and radio-friendly sound. Most noticeably, Rachel’s voice has been treated to make it sound as if she’s singing to you via a phone; it’s a significant change from the way the distinctive and unique sound of her voice is usually presented but it works well in the context of the new arrangement with its overdriven guitars, upfront percussion and multitracked chorus vocals.

Everything Changes is a well-rounded and gorgeous-sounding record which neatly summarises Rachel Sermanni’s musical journey so far and offers tantalising insights into ways in which her sound could develop in future. As such, it’s undoubtedly a milestone recording which also deserves to be seen as a landmark, paving the way for a larger audience to approach her work. More, please!


Originally posted at Folk Radio UK (16 January 2014)


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