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Rachel Sermanni

Venue: Summerhall
Town: Edinburgh
Date: 10/08/16

Rachel Sermanni is a Folk Noir singer-songwriter from Carrbridge in the Scottish Highlands. Despite her relatively tender years, Rachel is somewhat of a veteran on the Scottish music scene already, having released a clutch of EPs and three albums, and toured extensively in the UK and around the world, since her debut EP in 2011. Rachel Sermanni's debut studio album, 2012's "Under Mountains", signalled her arrival as a uniquely gifted singer and songwriter and 2014's live album, "Live In Dawson City", showcased her ability to captivate a live audience with her mesmerising songs. Rachel's second studio album, "Tied To The Moon", saw a step-change in her development, bearing witness to the growing richness and maturity of her vocals and the variety and range evident in her elegant and poetic songcraft, and resulting in the album's short-listing for the Scottish Album of the Year (the SAY Award) for 2015.

Rachel Sermanni has been a regular and popular performer in the Edinburgh Fringe over the past few years and this was reflected in a packed venue when she and her band played Summerhall on 10th August 2016. The first two songs of Rachel's set were performed solo, beginning with the jauntily charming and mandolin-led "Lay-Oh". Rachel switched to acoustic guitar for the elegant "Ever Since The Chocolate". Rachel then took great pleasure in welcoming her band to the stage, on this occasion consisting of Jen Austin (piano and backing vocals); Louis Abbott ( drums and vocals); Laura Wilkie (fiddle and backing vocals); Gordon Skene (bass and cello); and Jack Abbott (electric guitar).

Not surprisingly, the set centred largely on the songs from the recent album, with the versatility of the band enabling a variety of textures and moods to be created. These ranged from the driving rhythm and intensity of "Run" and "Tractor", the joyously free-wheeling "Wine Sweet Wine", the epic story-telling of "Ferryman" and the sweetly enigmatic "I've Got A Girl". On the achingly bittersweet "Banks Are Broken", Rachel and Louis treated us to some sublime duetting and harmonies, while the magnificently brooding "This Love" was notable for the gorgeous counter-point vocals provided by Louis, Jen and Laura as the song drifted to its conclusion.

On the heart-warming "Jen's Song", Rachel Sermanni paid tribute to her long-time friend and musical collaborator, Jen Austin, with Rachel's breezy vocals doing nothing to undermine the obvious warmth and sincerity to be found in the lyrics (…"you're the closest I will get to a star…").

Further evidence of Rachel Sermanni's increasing stature as a live performer was provided in the form of two songs from the first album, which have been re-imagined in dramatic fashion, allowing the band members to stretch out and flex their musical chops with some impressive soloing and ensemble playing. On "To A Fox", Rachel stalked the stage, leading the band deftly through the song's intricate changes of mood and tempo and the dark and edgy "The Fog" was gloriously full-on, featuring some crunching guitar chords and tribal drumming.

For the encore, Rachel Sermanni and Louis Abbott returned to the stage to duet beautifully on a graceful cover of "When I Go Deaf" (a song from US indie band Low). Louis then left Rachel alone on stage once more to bring an outstanding evening of music to a close with the incredibly moving and almost hymn-like "Marshmallow Unicorn", one of her signature songs, which never fails to bring a tear to the eye of this reviewer.

Rachel Sermanni is a very natural, quietly charismatic and assured performer, who holds the audience spellbound from the first note to the last. Her voice is a wondrous instrument in its range, tone and pitch, enhanced by traces of her gentle Highland lilt. She truly is one of the brightest stars in Scotland's musical firmament.

David Ferguson

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