Various Artists, Remembering Rachel | Album Review | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Various Artists, Remembering Rachel 

(Self-released, CD)

Vermont songwriter Rachel Bissex's untimely death from cancer earlier this year affected many in the local arts community. As a testament to her considerable body of music, Bissex's friends and musical associates came together to honor her memory. The fruit of their labor is a double-disc set entitled Remembering Rachel. This tribute album boasts an impressive roster of musicians, local and otherwise.

Bissex was a rare talent who was always working on one project or another. She spent nearly 15 years on the road, living the rugged life of a touring songwriter. In the course of her travels, she made many friends, several of them major musical talents in their own right. Bissex's lifelong dedication to supporting other artists was appreciated by nearly everyone she encountered, so it's fitting that so many of her peers appear on this disc. Produced by longtime friends and Kerrville Folk Festival icons Victor Heyman and Tom Prasada-Rao, Remembering Rachel is lovingly assembled. And it's for a good cause, too: All proceeds will go towards the college educations of Bissex's two children.

This righteous, heartfelt set will no doubt provide a new musical experience for fans accustomed to hearing Bissex's singular style. Although there are quite a few "folk superstars" on the release - including Dar Williams, Patti Larkin, Tracy Grammer, Luci Blue Tremblay, Sloan Wainwright, Annie Gallup, Ruthie Foster and Catie Curtis - what truly impresses is the remarkable adaptability of Bissex's compositions.

While most of the contributors don't try to emulate her sound, a few do - perhaps they failed to recognize that they're entitled to their own interpretations. Nevertheless, the important thing is that the spirit of the songwriting shines through no matter who's singing.

In addition to covers, the disc features a chilling and tender number written and performed by Bissex's husband Steve Goldberg. Entitled "Flame Warm," the cut's haunting melancholy is reminiscent of early Leonard Cohen. The collection wraps up with a previously unavailable and particularly lovely live version of Bissex's signature tune, "Dancing With My Mother," as performed by herself. It's a fine close to an album brimming with beautiful moments. Although nothing can replace Bissex in the hearts of her fans and loved ones, Remembering Rachel is a wonderful memento of a talented and much-admired performer.

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Robert Resnik

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