Search The Line of Best Fit
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Rachel Baiman targets hyper-capitalist cruelty on Common Nation of Sorrow

"Common Nation of Sorrow"

Release date: 31 March 2023
Rachel Baiman - Common Nation of Sorrow cover
31 March 2023, 09:00 Written by Tom Williams

In 1952, Harry Smith released an 84-song compilation of folk songs largely recorded during the Great Depression. In the years since, the anthology has become a defining document of a nation responding to political and economic crises via song.

The parallels between then and now are apparent – in a cost of living crisis, detached political leadership and gross inequality. If one wanted to create a new compilation of the most incisive folk music of the moment – music that responds empathetically and astutely to these crises – one would be wise to begin with Rachel Baiman’s newest, and best, LP Common Nation of Sorrow. Across ten brief, yet extensive, numbers, Baiman unpacks the cruelty at the heart of our hyper-capitalistic society, the small and large ways we fight against it, and the potential it has to crush and corrupt us.

The opener “Some Strange Notion” serves as the album’s mission statement; carrying the promise of revolution (“The dead will finally sleep so sweet / When the people rise at last”). The following nine tracks serve as reminders of the necessity of such action. The mournful “Bad Debt” registers as a real-time chronicle of financial destitution, where desperate attempts at coping escalate from excessive drinking to suicidal tendencies (“It’s often I’ve wished for a loaded shotgun”). While “Lovers and Leavers”, a tale of a destructive relationship, is a reminder of how cruel systems can make otherwise good people just as cruel in and of themselves (see also: “Bitter”).

The deceptively peppy “Self Made Man” – a John Hartford cover – is a perfect antidote to the billionaire worship lavished onto the Elon Musk’s of the world. “How many men do you think it takes / To make the self made man / how many people do you think he’ll use to do the best he can?” asks Baiman. In just one perceptive triplet, she dismantles the mythos of the supposedly independently wealthy, whose success is only made possible by the oppression of others.

The album’s best number, “She Don’t Know What To Sing Anymore” – which is all finger-picked banjos and lilting harmonies – offers warmth and humanity amidst a world so dearly lacking such qualities. An affecting and heartfelt character study, reminiscent of Anais Mitchell’s best work, it’s partially an ode to the healing and communicative power of music (as is: “Old Flame”). But in the song’s tales of singing in Church, dancing joyously and breaking records, lies the primary message – of the importance of finding salvation wherever it presents itself, and of all the ways we carry each other and ourselves through a world that can seem designed to stop us in our tracks.

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