Underground country queen comes to Waynesville

By Jessi Stone Guide editor | Feb 19, 2014
Photo by: Donated photo

She’s been dubbed the “Queen of Underground Country Music” and identified as one of the few up-and-coming female artists who have the ability to change country music for the better.

Young country singer and songwriter Rachel Brooke encapsulates the dark undertones of southern music with a classic, yet hauntingly beautiful voice. Brooke will be bringing that voice and her band to Waynesville Feb. 22 to perform at The Water’n Hole.

Brooke is influenced by the raw, early country singing to Chicago blues greats and vintage New Orleans jazz bands all tied together in the framework of her old-fashioned melodies.

"I think it's a mix of old-time country, blues, and a bunch of other styles mixed together," she said about her music."It's hard to pinpoint it, really because sometimes my songs take on their own little personality."

While it is often difficult to imitate these old sounds without sounding unoriginal, she is able to pull it off. Her music sounds incredibly fresh but as rough-edged and hand-honed as the best of today’s roots music.

Her songs embody the music of the American South, but she lives in Northern Michigan. Her parents were in a bluegrass band while she was growing up, yet she spent her teen years in an all-girl punk band.

Brooke said in a recent interview that she started to learn how to play guitar when she was 14, but because she was so shy, it took her several years to work up the courage the play in front of people.

"I've been playing music for a long time, since before I was a teenager, and my songwriting has been a a long process that I am constantly trying to develop," she said.

Some of her biggest influences are Louis Jordan, Fats Domino, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, and the Carter Family.

"To be quite honest, I don't listen to a lot of today's music because I just keep discovering old music that I become obsessed with, but there are a lot of great bands today worth listening to. Check out Pokey LaFarge, JD McPherson, Viva le Vox, and Those Poor Bastards," she said.

Brooke's wall-shaking voice has earned her a place at cutting-edge roots music festivals like Muddy Roots — an icon of underground country music. Her latest independently released album, “A Killer’s Dream,” shows offer her songwriting abilities and also covers jazz greats like Fats Domino.

Playing with a full band for the first time, Brooke cut the whole album live on analog 2” tape. In fact, they didn’t even turn on a computer until the mastering began – something that is rarely done anymore.

Each track was nailed down in a few takes, and it’s thanks to the ultra-tight backing band Viva Le Vox that the music sounds so polished.

The songs from the album are remarkably cohesive for having so many influences. “Fox in a Hen House” and “Late Night Lover” drip with the electric sass of the best Bessie Smith and Mae West songs, “Old Faded Memory.”

Being an independent artist is intentional for Brooke, who said she likes to be in control of her music and her career. But if the right opportunity came along in the future, she would consider it.

"I've talked to other artists and they really have no control over what they do, what they release, when they release it, etc.," she said. "I don't go out looking for label support. If they came to me I might consider it, but I guess I'd cross that bridge if I ever see that bridge. Right now, I'm pretty happy."

This will be her first time playing in Waynesville and she encourages everyone to come out for a great show. The free show begins at 9 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 22 at The Water'n Hole, 796 N Main St., Waynesville.

Music lovers don’t want to miss this opportunity before Brooke moves on to bigger cities on her tour, including Charlotte, Charleston and New Orleans.

For more information, visit www.rachelbrookemusic.com.