Rachel Ries

The Company House, Halifax NS, January 23

Rachel RiesThe Company House, Halifax NS, January 23
Photo: Lindsay Duncan
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After opening her solo Dead of Winter set with a sad, soulful track titled "Adrian," Vermont and NYC-based singer-songwriter Rachel Ries explained that the song was about her ex-husband — and then earned a big laugh from the crowd with an exaggerated knowing glance that seemed to say, "Yep, that was a thing that happened."
 
Ries is a strong songwriter and vocalist but an even stronger personality: her set was filled with playful asides and tiny micro-stories that seemed to have the packed Company House crowd in the palm of her hand. She joked about song titles (her band writing "Better Wife" on their set lists as "Better Wi-fi" — "also something we're all looking for") and talked in detail about what she called her "existential Mennonite angst" stemming from her missionary upbringing. Introducing one song about her occasional fleeting desire to be a farmer's wife, she laughed,' "Looks like I've dodged that pacifistic bullet so far!"
 
There's a deep familiarity in Ries's voice: while watching her set, I confess my mind cycled through a litany of vocalists she reminded me of, from Hannah Georgas and Sarah Harmer to Regina Spektor and Sharon Van Etten. Those echoes of other singers, song-by-song, were hard to shake, but there's no question hers is an incredibly strong voice, delivered with a curl in her lip that seems to add a bit of bite to each note. It could be sly and bluesy on new song "Got You Good," then withered and frayed through a darker song like "Ghost" — and proved it was good for a solid chuckle or two between songs as well.

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