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Rachel GarlinRachel Garlin
Album: Wink At July
Label: Tactile
Tracks: 11

I have to confess I have slightly mixed feelings about this, the fourth album from the Californian singer-songwriter and music teacher. It starts off in terrific form with 'Gwendolyn Said', a tribute to American poet Gwendolyn Brooks, and the 'Accordion Song', a number about meeting up with an ex-lover after hearing of their father's death and being reminded of the loss of her own , both of which evoke the very best of early Suzanne Vega. The standard holds up for the 70sish folksy-pop, dobro-featured 'Hey Keith Haring', another tribute, this time to the late New York social activist graffiti artist.

She gets a little more jazzy on the choppy, piano backed 'This Winding Road', a reflection on not taking home and family for granted complete with a scat sung refrain, while 'The Sea You See' continues the theme in a light folksy song about her mother and the Scottish roots she left behind. However, I'm not persuaded the writing on that is as strong as what has gone before, references to shepherd's pie and a Burns melody feeling a little too forced into the subject matter.

Likewise, the album's mid section. While pleasant enough the mandolin-driven childhood reflections of 'Colorado Rain', 'Up On A Ladder In Boots', a playful but throwaway a snapshot of an artist at work (rather than about the chemists) featuring Julie Wolf on accordion, and 'Flying Together', where she sings about her partner flying off somewhere with their youngest child while she stays behind with his older brother , all feel somewhat slight, both musically and lyrically.

Things pick up again, however, with 'Spin', another choppy, swirly rhythm number that again harks to Vega, perhaps by way of Shawn Colvin, and 'Stranded', where she recalls a visit to Phoenix to meet her partner's grandma, talking of old photos, memories of prisons that made the inmates wear pink and building a school below ground to facilitate the building of the airport. It's a perfect example of Garlin's conversational style that makes you want to hang out and hear more. Then comes 'Dear Friend', a brief but emotionally rich acoustic fingerpicked open letter to a friend who's moved away and finding things difficult, before closing with the disarmingly beautiful title track which uses the Apollo moon landing as a springboard to reflect on her own journey of love to the room from where she stares out of the window up at the sky, one little boy already in her life and another on the way. A slightly flawed gem, then, but a gem nonetheless.

Mike Davies