Review: Rachel Beck, “Stronger Than You Know”

Rachel Beck

Following her successful self-titled album back in March, 2018 – one that gave us the popular CBC radio hit, “Reckless Heart” – Stratford, PEI singer-songwriter Rachel Beck unleashes her highly anticipated sophomore album today.  Produced by Daniel Ledwell (Lynne Hanson, The Fortunate Ones) at Echo Lake Recording Studio in NS, Rachel surrounds herself here with a stellar cast of musicians that reads like a who’s who of household names for this six-track EP – Jenn Grant, Kinley Dowling, Kyle Cunjak, Kim Harris, to name-drop a few.  While it is often said that having too many chefs in one kitchen supposedly spoils the broth, having too many musicians of this caliber in one studio serves only to create a stunning collection of original new songs.

With the pre-launch single releases of both the title track and “Warrior,” Rachel was quick to throw some early proverbial punches about strength, femininity and empowerment; bobbing and weaving with some added feistiness to quickly earn your attention.  “Warrior is a call to arms of sorts; a powerful anthem for all current and future heroines to embrace,” Rachel shared previously.  “An anthem for the fierce, the fearless, the feminine.”  “Every swaying tree, every flowing stream, feel the rhythm of the world in perfect harmony / Every beating drum, the heart of your queen-dom, feel the power and the beauty of the woman you’ve become,” she recites during this powerful, strategically placed opening track on the EP.

Intimate and close, this collection of songs are sonically decorated amidst compelling electronic rhythms and dreamy synth layers. Beck’s vocals float across the harmony-laden, ethereal soundscape for which she has become known, reads her official press release.  Spend a little time with this EP in its entirety, however, and you’ll quickly discover that while Beck’s signature synth-laced electro pop sounds reinforce her messages of strength, the moments spent yielding to the stunning strings courtesy of Kinley Dowling (violin/viola) and touring companion Natalie Williams Calhoun (cello) allow vulnerability and doubt to seep their way back in. Opting for traditional piano sounds in lieu of synthesizer during “Tonight,” complete with a somber chamber-folk pace, pictures of fragility are quickly painted; and if not immediately, certainly once those strings add their haunting depth midway through.

Spinning this EP more than a few times this week, I find myself drawn to a pair of these new tunes.  “At First Glance,” a beautiful composition co-written with sister Amy Beck, has earned repeat listening thanks in part to not only the incredibly atmospheric opening vocals from Rachel, but also for the slight gospel delivery wrapped up with synth and studio effects.  And I’ve really taken a shine to “Things I Should Keep,” co-written with Tessa Giro-Gooden, and the crossroads where these conflicting themes of empowerment and vulnerability intersect.  Pay extra attention to the well-crafted chorus here: “I’m breaking things that I should keep / I’m up all night, I can’t sleep / With you in my head, in my dreams / I’m breaking things that I should keep / You think you own me / I think you’re crazy.”  “This record is a celebration of strength,” shares a very excited Rachel Beck.  “The strength it takes to be a woman, a partner, a parent, a protector of the earth.  There is a deliberate absence of retrospection: the songs live in the present and look to the future with optimism, gentleness, and love.”

“Stronger Than You Know” is another top-notch collection of songs from Rachel Beck, and whether intentional or just pure coincidence, the timing of this release falls on the birthdate of a truly significant historical warrior.  Born on this date in 1929, Holocaust victim Anne Frank, whose posthumous diary is one of the world’s best known books, should have been celebrating her 91st birthday today.  Let’s celebrate by spinning this new EP, and maybe even treat yourself to a copy, available right now at: www.rachelbeckmusic.com

The British guy that crossed the ocean and crash landed in central Pennsylvania (to quote Greg Keelor, “And I wonder what am I doing here?”). As the youngest of four siblings, exposure to music from a very early age nurtured my passion and appreciation for many musical genres. Continuing to discover some amazingly diverse and talented musicians based in Canada, I gravitate to live music experiences and remain devoted to spreading the word about such a vibrant music scene.

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