RACHEL Harrington has taken the traditional music of America and stood it on its head.
As a result she has taken alt-country to a brand new level.
She calls it country soul, and it is easy to see why.
Steeped in the roots of America, her music is full of soul and her delivery crammed with emotion.
She grew up in Oregon where her prime exposure to music was gospel. But she shared a secret with her father - his stash of Stax/Motown records he’d amassed since his return from Vietnam.
Said Rachel: “My folks would leave to go to church in the evenings and I’d beg to stay behind and I’d turn out all the lights and put on the Otis Redding records and stand in front of the living room window, singing into this broken little microphone.”
A few years later, aged 12, she spent some time with relatives in Montana and fell in love with horses.
One day, she met an old cowboy named Dutch who spent hours teaching her to ride. And at the same time he played his radio, giving Rachel a critical exposure to the music of Hank Williams, Loretta Lynn and George Jones.
She added: “Hearing Loretta changed my life. Finally, I had someone I could actually sing like. And it was then I also realized the connection between country and soul. First time I heard Hank Williams I knew he was coming from the same place as Ray Charles.”
Around this time, a family friend gave Rachel her first guitar.
She soon began writing songs and there’s been no turning back: “On weekends I sang in a honkytonk band, Little Lotta Dickens and the Pulltab Playboys. That was a lot of fun, but it was just a hobby.
“It wasn’t until 2001, after my second son was stillborn, that I began to take music seriously.”
A year of grieving followed: “I just didn’t want to be that little girl in the window any more. Life’s too short for that.”
Pretty soon, she had released a home-made EP, called Halloween Leaves and began to play open mic spots. Soon, she was opening for many of her songwriting heroes: Guy Clark, Eliza Gilkyson, and Todd Snider. She then began work on a proper debut album.
She has also toured near-endlessly, including a number of well-received visits to these shores.
Now with new album, Celilo Falls, under he wing, she is back in the UK, and appearing in Sheffield tonight playing as a trio, which includes producer Evan Brubaker.
n Rachel Harrington is at the Greystones, Greystones Road, Sheffield tonight. For tickets details, visit www.seetickets.com.
n Other shows at the Greystones include: Nick Harper (tomorrow), Richard Digance (Monday) and John Renbourn and Robin Williamson (Friday, April 15).
n THE Chris While and Julie Matthews Band will be at the Wortley Folk Club tonight. The club now meets at The Venue,Stocksbridge.
The show will feature both songs from their latest recording, Hitting the Ground Running as well as material from their back catalogue.
The While And Matthews Band features Howard Lees on guitar, Neil Fairclough on bass and Bryan Hargreaves on percussion.
n THE Strawbs Acoustic are to play a sell out show at the Rock@Maltby, Wesley Centre, Blyth Road, Maltby tonight. Next Friday’s guest is one-man blues band Mike Whellans.
n KARINE Polwart with Mark Nichols are at the Plug, Sheffield tonight. Karine is back after an 18-month maternity leave.
n SIMON Mayor and Hilary James are at the Uppertown Social Centre, Cullumbell Lane, Uppertown, Ashover, near Chesterfield tomorrow.
n GUEST next Friday at Chesterfield Folk Club will be Isla St Clair, Support comes from Bob Barratt.
n DAMIEN O’Kane will be at the Live@215 venue, in Sharrow Vale Road, next Friday.
n THE voice of Sheffield favourites Boy on a Dolphin and The Acoustic Angels, John Reilly will be at Letwell Village Hall with Canadian keyboard player Lewis Nitikman, next Saturday, April 16. Tickets details: 01909 731626.