A founding member of The Lords of Liechtenstein, the New York-based multi-instrumentalist singer/songwriter took time off to put together this debut solo project, We Are More Than What We Leave Behind, one informed by both a love of books and history, and influences absorbed from UK folk music across the generations.
Accompanying himself on the likes of a vintage parlour guitar, oversized mandola and Irish button accordion with musical contributions by producer Kyle Joseph, Sam Kestenbaum on keys and Spencer Inch providing bodhran and other percussion, it’s a catchily melodic affair, his slightly adenoidal vocal on the simple strummed acoustic It Just Is with its gravestone epitaph-inspired lyric about injustice (“good folks perish, bad folks live”) recalling John Otway in his quivering ballad mode.
The Irish folk influence of Tommy Makem and the Clancy Brothers, can be heard on album opener the bodhran-driven and tin whistle -accompanied ‘Mrs. McLaughlin’, a swayalong anti-war protest about a young man enlisting to seek glory only to have his enraged mother going down to the recruiting sergeant and giving him hell until he removes him from the list.
While it might seem unlikely, it’s hard to imagine how Rauchwerk could have written the organ-backed ‘Memphis’ without having heard ‘Dusty In Memphis’ by The Dreaming Spires, so close are the melodic hook and the lyrical sentiments. It’s not in quite the same league, but it’s a fine number nonetheless.
Moving on, ‘Victoria’ takes a leaf out of Ray Davies’ book for a strummingly infectious chords-tumbling number about the Queen who oversaw the expansion of the British Empire, its chorus lamenting the subsequent decline (“how could you let your children fall so far, they’ve forgotten you and the legend that you were”) and how “we forget we owe our legacy to her”. History lessons of fallen empires are also wheeled out on the mandola-led ‘Carthage’ as he sings “when we fall, we fall forever, and when we dream, we always wake”, a call to look forward to “some great endeavour” rather than back because “the past is always mistake”.
Another historical figure emerges on the piano-waltzer ‘Tears Shaped Like Islands’, that of Queen Lili’ uokalani (sung here by Caitlin Mahoney), the last sovereign monarch of Hawai’i who was overthrown by pro-American forces, placed under house arrest and forced to abdicate. A personal family note is struck on the sounding board of historical legacy for ‘Skywalker’, another mandola showcase, that recounts the stories learned from his Mohawk grandfather who, during the Great Depression, moved from Ontario to become one of the steel-walking riveters who, thousands of feet above the ground, made New York city rise, who “built a glorious future but that future was not yours”.
It closes with the fingerpicked guitar and puttering percussion of ‘Alene’, a simple reflective love song that again conjures Geneve-mode Otway, and finally, ‘Modern Day Explorer’ which balances references ranging from Vasco Da Gama and Christopher Columbus to the Mars missions, and the quests to venture beyond the horizons and limitations of the age, with the simple contentment of staying home and singing the kids to sleep. It is here, suggests Rauchwerk that we build the real lasting legacies of our time on earth.
Artist’s website: www.danrauchwerk.com
‘Tears Shaped Like Islands’: