Rachel Brooke‘s The Loneliness in Me releases on 23 October, and serves as powerful reminder of the Michigan-based musician’s marriage of classic country music with contemporary sensibilities. The spare, lived-in music serves as the perfect companion to Brooke’s haunting voice, which sounds like it’s broadcasting directly from some long-lost radio station of the past into our hearts. You can hear it on “The Lovells Stockade Blues”, which lands as one of her best performances on a record filled with deeply emotional and frequently funny observations. Like her contemporary, Eilen Jewell, Brooke’s music is untouched by bombast and bluster. It’s some of the purest, direct music you’ll hear from a contemporary artist. That she has maintained her vision across her career is no mean feat, but it’s one of the most endearing qualities of her artistry.
Speaking from her home in the northern part of Michigan’s lower peninsula, Brooke reflects on “The Lovells Stockade Blues”. Lovells’ population is under 1,000 and exists as a township, one of those municipalities with a post office, a grocery store, and gas station, with perhaps all three in one building. It’s a part of Michigan where the population overall becomes less dense and, where time moves more slowly, and winters are, somewhat predictably, long.
“That’s probably the oldest song on the record. I wrote it years ago,” she says. “It’s about being stuck out in rural Michigan in wintertime. You can’t go anywhere, and sometimes you don’t want to, but you couldn’t if you wanted to anyway. It feels like you’re stuck in a jail cell or something. The town itself is wonderful, but being away from anywhere can wear on you.”
Brooke recently spoke with PopMatters about the album and her life in the quietest stretches of her home state.
When did this album start coming together for you?
I was kind of not motivated in a lot of ways. It wasn’t a bad place, but I didn’t know when I was going to release a new record. We were trying to get ahead in our lives. We had to burrow down and work toward something. I didn’t really have a lot of time to write or anything. Eventually, I just hit a wall and said, “I need to put something out. I need to start working on a record; otherwise, it’s not going to happen.”
About a year-and-a-half ago, we started writing songs, then went into the studio about a year ago. It’s been a long process, but now it’s on its way.
It seems like maybe that process was a little different for you.
Definitely. Even the last one I did, that was so quick. We were on the road for weeks at a time, then we came home and went right into the studio and recorded it. But this took a little bit longer. Everything’s a little bit different now. And of course, there was all the COVID stuff. There were months where I couldn’t get into finishing the record. We were so close.
In rural parts of Michigan, time seems to move so slowly anyway.
It’s good in some ways. You can enjoy the quiet. But there’s not much going on and especially in a small town in wintertime. You’re literally locked up in a cell and can go out and do anything at all because even if you feel like it, you have to brave the snowy and icy roads. It’s tough. It’s always kind of hard up here. But in some ways, it’s nice.
Does that slowness sometimes offer more time to write.
I do have a lot fewer distractions. But you have to put your mind in that right place. You have to look at the positives. You’re not able to network or play with other musicians. That’s tough. But if you look at it like, “Well, I have a lot of extra time here to write and plan”, that can be kind of cool.
Do you feel like there’s anything that unifies the songs on the record?
There was a lot of sassiness. I was writing this song with my husband, and he was pulling more of that out of me. At one point, he said, “That’s good. It’s a good idea. But it’s not necessarily you. You’ve got to put more of who you really are in there. More of that sassiness.” So he really helped me with that. It’s pretty honest. A lot of it’s a little over the top, but it’s more accurate.
Which song was that?
There’s two. “It Ain’t Over ‘Til You’re Crying”. When I was writing it, I was going to call it, “It Ain’t Over ‘Til I’m Crying”. I wanted it to be a really sad song. But my husband said, “That’s not you. You’re the one who’s not going to be over it until the other person’s crying.” That and “Lucky and Alone”. Kind of saying, “I’m glad to be alone. I’m glad you’re gone. I don’t really care if I hurt your feelings. This is all about me.” It’s not truly about being mean to anybody, but it comes off like that a little bit.