No Surf Music


The No Surf Review


The Lowdown:

Rachel Brooke

Based In:
Grayling, Michigan



A Killer's Dream

Release Date:
December 4, 2012

Independently released

Previous Releases:
Rachel Brooke (2009), Down in the Barnyard (2011)

Americana, country, gothic country, Southern noir, blues, rockabilly,


Related Articles:

Rachel Brooke, A Killer's Dream cover art

Rating: 9 out of 10



February 14, 2013


Rachel Brooke: A Killer's Dream

by Jason D. 'Diesel' Hamad


Yeah, gothIC. That's the right word. In fact, here Brooke looks positively "American Gothic." All she needs is a pitchfork and a bale of hay.

No Surf’s sometime-(though long-on-hiatus)-junior-writer Pender is a big fan of crazy Canadian cowboy singer Corb Lund, and when his new album came out, excitedly insisted on playing the track “Gothiest Girl I Can” for me, which he described as “A quest to find Danielle from American Pickers.” I looked at him askew but listened politely (because I’m nothing if not impeccably mannered) until the song finished, at which point I declared flatly:

“Corb Lund has no fucking idea what the word ‘goth’ means. Either that or it means something completely different in Canuckspeak. What he’s looking for is a roller derby girl, a burlesque dancer, a roots rock weirdo. Nothing he’s describing could be characterized as ‘goth’ at all. And it ain’t pussy enough to be emo.”

It wasn’t until several months later that I realized whom the Hurtin’ Albertan was really after: Rachel Brooke. The young Michigander country musician thinks she was born eighty years ago in the Deep South, splitting her time between riveting boat hulls in Mobile Bay and dancing on bartops wearing ration-banned fishnets. She’s the great Hank Williams’ ghost with a vagina. She’s Jimmie Rodgers in black Chantilly lace. She’s Bessie Smith without a suntan. And while she has little in common with straight-haired, black-makeup-caked posers, with her witty, dark songwriting she’s gorgeously gothic. Corb omitted the last syllable, but he would probably trade his best Stetson just to get near her.

Brooke’s work is a musical paradox on so many levels. Never mind that a girl from the middle finger of the Lower Peninsula just genetically should never be able to stand tall with such old-time Southern masters; no one in this over-produced, over-electrified, over-poppified era should. These songs sound like they would be at home in the dust-filled grooves of a flea market 78, not the Boolean ones and zeros of a downloaded mp3. Yet they stand up perfectly in a modern musical era just begging to reconnect with its roots and expel the demons of corporate music hell.

Brooke’s latest release, A Killer’s Dream is her third solo album but the first recorded with a full band (live to analog tape, which explains a lot). Her talents as a songwriter are only amplified by the tight-beyond-belief musical talents of backing group Viva Le Vox as they work together to make manifest her visions. The album’s songs draw from traditions as diverse as country, blues, jazz, rockabilly, and folk, yet gel together into a seamless whole. The songs drip with modern sensibilities even as they are played against a sepia-soaked background. They are exactly what’s needed to soothe the savage beast that is today’s music consumer lost in a forest of blandness. If the gods were music lovers, Lady Gaga would be sacrificed on an alter dedicated to Rachel Brooke while A Killer’s Dream played her off to the furthest pits of Hades where she belongs.

It’s particularly fitting that this review be published on the anniversary of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, because so many of these songs are love stories of the beautifully twisted variety.

The half-minute a cappella opener “Have It All” sets the pace right off the bat, sounding like a deep-voiced chain-gang chant before anachronistically dissolving into a crescendoing electronic mess of reverb that, when it suddenly cuts off, somehow blends perfectly into the opening pickup notes of the slinky blues number “Fox in a Hen House.” This scorned woman love triangle song seems custom made for some sort of slow-walk Blues Brothers zombie dance with its cool groove and Chicago-style tempo-jumping climaxes. It’s actually evocative of a predator sneaking up on its prey, then exploding towards the target. It’s also a perfect Valentine’s song with lines like:

Well, now everywhere I go
They say, “She’s got your man.”
She might think she’s got him
But she can’t love him like I can.

She’s like a fox in a hen house
She gets what she can take
But if she comes around at night
I’ll be waiting with my .38.

Ah, true love, jealous rage, and hot-lead vengeance. How they do go together.

Just as slinky but much more spooky, the jazzy “Late Night Lover” swings along to the muted shrieks of a trumpet and a spectral saw. This one paints the feminine narrator as a temptress awaiting a moonlight rendezvous. One can picture this song in combination with the next, Fats Domino cover “Every Night About This Time,” as another love triangle saga, the second from the perspective of the late night lover’s scorned better half, who laments her man’s cheating heart. The mellow, unplugged “Life Sentence Blues” may well complete the trilogy by describing the resulting self-imposed hermitry of the unlucky loser:

Now don’t you come knockin’,
Knockin’ at my door.
No, don’t you come knockin’
‘Cause I won’t come along.
‘Cause I know if someone’s knockin’
There must be somethin’ wrong.

All I do all day long,
Well, I sit here and cry.
All night long
I’m just layin’ there and cryin’
Only reason I’m still livin’,
I’m too afraid to die.

Don't let this alabaster-hued pastoral peacefulness fool you. There's something brooding, dark and beautiful behind those eyes.

One genuinely hopes for Ms. Brooke’s sake that she is a master gothic storyteller and hasn’t patterned these broken heart opi after her own love life, because they keep getting more and more depressing and if autobiographical, it would be a wonder that she could function as a human being at all. Perhaps saddest of all is “Old Faded Memory,” a duet with Lonesome Wyatt. The light, sweet music, with its ukulele-like strumming and ringing vibraphone percussion, belie the darkness of the geriatric love lost tale, in which two long-separated have-been lovers reminisce about each other in the waning of their time on Earth, each wishing their dreamed-of love from their younger days could have lasted forever. The final stanzas are the most sadly expressive of all:

Her love like a flower that clings to the vine,
Her love, how it lingers upon my old mind.
Oh, the nights that I’ve spent ‘neath that twin oak tree
Just hopin’ she’d be there just waitin’ for me.

I’d give my own life just to see her once more.
But I know in my heart I won’t be waiting for long.
For my mind it grows darker than each day before
And my heart, though it’s beating, has nothing to beat for.

If only my life could have lasted forever
Oh, the things I’d have done. Darling, we’d be together.
But time that is given is cruel and seething
For my body has weakened and beauty is fleeting.

Faster and faster, so go the days
As I cling to a life that’s slipping away.
And with my last breath unto death may I stare;
I’ll remember the life that we never shared.

Cheery. If nothing else, this song certainly qualifies as the world’s most melancholy yodel.

The pace picks up again with the swinging sounds of “Ashes to Ashes” with its walking bass and return of the muted trumpet, in turn subsumed by the big, loping bass notes of “The Black Bird,” which—with its contrast of paranoia-inducing lyrics, eerie saw and bouncy horse-clod temple blocks with the kind of operatic bombast one expects from the likes of April Smith and the Great Picture Show—seems custom-fit for a cartoon rendition of a Victorian horror piece penned by Poe himself. (Believe it or not, I actually wrote that before seeing the macabre animated video at right.)

Brooke saved the catchiest for last, in the form of title track “A Killer’s Dream.” The best way to describe it is tongue-in-cheek “Natural Born Killers” meets the deadly serious Go-Go’s. There are those crazy paradoxes cropping up again. Among the bouncing xylophone and sixties pop vocal hooks lies an only slightly fractured love story. Take these cheerily delivered lines, for instance:

Here I go again, baby, one more time.
I dug another big black hole where I cried and cried.
It’s taken me all my life but now I realize
I ain’t nothin’ but a killer’s dream in a killers mind.

I got no sympathy for all the things that you said
‘Cause you keep lyin’ and lyin’ and now I know where I stand.
Yeah, you’re a killer. You always find a way.
Yeah, you can call me your queen but I know I’m only prey.

I’m guessing that’s a set of sentiments felt by plenty on both sides of the sexual equation. And if that don’t make your Valentine’s Day, I don’t know what will. The 50's-sheek film noir video for the song (at right) only magnifies the juxtapositional disquiet as Brooke's toothy siren's smile beckons one into her twisted world.

It wouldn’t be too much to call A Killer’s Dream a lo-fi masterpiece. It certainly fills an important gap in the overproduced musical world in which we now live. While Brooke’s dark—yes gothic—songwriting and vocal prowess are key to forming these songs, what’s truly impressive is the rich complexity of each and every track, filled with the kind of tight-as-a-tick musicianship that was long ago replaced by digital loops in the mainstream marketplace. My only problem is that the word “masterpiece” implies the height of a career and with Brooke’s youth and talents my bet is she’ll be pumping out quality tunes like this for a long time to come.


Buy A Killer's Dream on Amazon!
mp3 cd


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