Rachel Ries in Lewes and Brighton
Rachel Ries is celebrating her birthday this month and will be doing so, whilst on a UK tour to promote her new four song EP Cardinal. This quartet of songs was written during a writing retreat, last summer in Rouen, France. It is a medieval city, with a rich social and cultural history; it was here that Joan Arc was executed in 1431.
The songs inspired by her surroundings and the gift of an ancient key, are poetic, thought provoking with successive listening revealing layer upon layer. For Ries, ‘each of the songs is a key; a direction, a red-blooded essential for living – be it bravery, belief in one’s path or the bonds of family and blood’.
And so it was that I found myself listening to her twice in one day. At Union Music, Lewes, Ries played an acoustic set, accompanied by Sarah Smout on cello. At just half an hour in length, this afternoon in-store performance certainly whetted my appetite for more…her clear voice, imbued with, at various turns, strength and fragility, incorporates folk-country and jazz influences. To hear her bring her songs to life, with vivid storytelling interjections, was just wonderful. Chatting to her afterwards she too was looking forward to the Brighton show and in addition to playing her normal electric guitar, she hoped that a piano would also be available.
To Brighton in the evening for a full show, one hosted by local musician Fiddes Smith, in an room which to my pleasant surprise was akin to a house concert setting. The series ‘Fiddes Smith: Acoustic, Actually’ has been very successful and tonight’s was a sell out. In the basement of The Basement, it had too narrow a staircase to enable a piano to be brought down and so Ries, again accompanied by cellist Smout, performed acoustically. No microphones, no electrics, just guitar, cello and vocals. My kind of setting…
Opening with ‘Willow’ a song about her grandmother (from 2014’s Ghost of a Gardener) she made mention of the importance of family and the influence of such on her writing. Ries is a spiritual soul who was brought up in the Mennonite tradition; Mennonites eschew forwardness, egotism and over confidence and this is reflected in her demeanour on stage and towards her audience.
Showcasing three of the four Cardinal songs (the fourth ‘Good Enough’ needed a piano), the audience received them very warmly indeed. A new song ‘Pleasant Valley Reservoir’ performed solo was personal and poignant. Joined by Smith for ‘Ghost’ and by a double bass player for a cover of James Taylor’s ‘Bartender Blues’ it was clear that everyone was having a grand time tonight. An encore ‘You Only’ closed out the evening.
Ries is finding her own path, heeding the compass of her heart and if these two shows are anything to go by, then I’m glad that she has continued to explore her music, her poetry, her writing and bring it to a wider audience.