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Rachel Brooke's latest album a delicious dip into sadness, regret, and self-deprecation

Rachel Brooke plays The Stable in Bloomington Thursday night
Rachel Brooke
Rachel Brooke plays The Stable in Bloomington on Thursday night.

Country singer-songwriter Rachel Brooke says her recent critically acclaimed album "The Loneliness in Me" is an accurate snapshot of her mindset in 2020.

These classic country songs filled with sadness, regret, and self-deprecation will be featured Thursday night when she and her band play The Stable in downtown Bloomington.

The title track suggests bigger Nashville record labels have been showing interest.

Nashville called saying "where have you been?"
I said I've been perfecting my domesticated grin
They said, "well you know, we'd like to offer you a deal"
"You don't have to pay your dues, but you gotta pay the bill"
"We'll work on your image, and we'll draw you a crowd"
"Cuz if no one hears your record drop, does it make a sound?"
No thanks, I'll pass. I got MY ego naturally
It's just the loneliness in me

“It has happened but that was a little bit of an exaggeration for the sake of song. I mean, there were some aspects of it that that are true. Mostly my dislike for corporate Nashville,” she laughed.

Country music today tends to fall into two camps: Americana, and "Modern Country," which is more akin to pop than traditional country. Brooke lands on the Americana side, though her country sensibility leans into old-school. Think Patsy Cline, Roger Miller, and Johnny Cash rather than Brandi Carlile or Jason Isbell.

You can hear songs from Brooke on WGLT's Highway 309, available 24/7 at WGLT.org and weekends on 89-1 FM.

“But I also like a lot of newer sounds that really wouldn't even be considered country. So, I like to mix the two. I don't know if that fits necessarily in the Americana world. I mean, I hope it kind of does. But then again, I hope it kind of doesn’t,” said Brooke.

What Rachel Brooke shares with classic country is the love of a sad song and at times brutally honest storytelling wrapped in beautiful melodies. Where “The Loneliness in Me” can be interpreted as a restlessness to get back out there, the opening track “It Ain’t Over til You're Crying" is a harsh admission of who she can be while warning a potential lover of what lies ahead should he enter her world.

“It is pretty brutal. Obviously, I'm not that mean all the time,” she laughed

It ain’t about you baby It’s all about me.
I’ll keep you around, tethered and bound
‘til you beg mercy
Then after you’re gone I might just give you a call
Tell you I love you, but you ain’t worth the fall

“I have those tendencies to be like that,” conceded Brooke. “And I think a lot of people do, but really, I feel like it's sad. Because it's not about how I'm treating somebody else, but how much I don't like me. It's a sad song all around, and not just for the guy or whoever the partner is, but it's about how awful it is to feel the way I do.”

Thoughts unsaid regularly appear in this collection of songs — if you take the time to listen between the lines. For example, an explicit warning to a potential lover in “It Ain’t Over” can be interpreted as a subtle cry for help. And the sadness in these songs can be wickedly self-deprecating as on “It Ain’t Over,” and “Lucky and Alone”

Lucky and alone
You’ll wake up and I’ll be gone
What good fortune to be in my company
Now I’m lucky and alone

“That makes me happy to hear that, because I hope that people will read into it a little bit more and understand the subtleties that I specifically am putting in there. Once people do get it, it makes me really happy to hear."

"Great Mistake” also takes a self-deprecating jab at a deeply personal wound.

Don’t know what kept you from leaving
Now I see how hard you tried
I’m not the finest thing that’s breathing
But somehow, I was always on your mind

“I really liked that one because I love songs about regret," she laughed.

"I don't know why … they're just so sad. Maybe it's a very common theme but you know, between people and relationships that they've had, I feel like it's one of the saddest ones on the record if you're really listening. And that is what I aim for,” explained Brooke.

This album also has a fuller sound musically than Brooke’s previous solo albums, the last of which dropped 9 years ago, though she’s been involved in a number of side-projects in between, including with her husband Brooks Robbins on the more contemporary group Modern Mal. But she says that addition to the fuller sound, she incorporates her non-country influences.

“I'm a huge Beach Boys fan. The whole catalogue, Brian Wilson did a lot of harmonies and wall-of-sound sound kind of stuff and I really like to kind of mess around with that.

She cites the great R&B pianist Fats Domino as another influence. And though she says you can hear that more on her previous records, you can get a small taste of Fats on “Picture on the Wall” on her latest album.

Brooke says she weaves those sounds and influences ... and perhaps a few others … while on the road supporting her new album "The Loneliness in Me." That includes her full band stop at The Stable in downtown Bloomington Thursday night.

FYI: You can hear songs from Brooke on WGLT's Highway 309, available 24/7 at WGLT.org and weekends on 89-1 FM.

Jon Norton is the program director at WGLT and WCBU. He also is host of All Things Considered every weekday.