Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Rachelle van Zanten - Slide Rules

'I'm swed-i-er than I was when ai played in Aastin, Texas,' cooed Rachelle van Zanten as she tuned up her guitar at her gig at Mezz, New Friends Colony, New Delhi on Friday night (23 May). The crowds got more raucous after that - because she was plain - well - hot.

One of the few women slide guitarists in the world, Rachelle was one of the 2 foreign artists -from a total of 60 gigs - featured at the Kingfisher Pub Rock fest, on through June at various venues all over India. Dressed in torn? patched jeans Rachelle ruled the roost as she poured out songs of yearning for the praries back home, as smoothly as the dudes poured out their beers.

Back to Francois (Marilyn Records, 2007) her debut album, which was on sale, is full of the bluegrass, country and rock. It had me hooked, heralding Saturday, long after I eased out of Friday at the venue at 11-ish.

The third line of her album is 'Oh baby, I'm so tired' ('The Crack'). There is this 'I've seen it all' quality in many of Rachelle's songs, but the album is about her continuing journey, on the road, on the praries, by the rivers. My favourite is 'Down to California' for its restlessness to move, its restlessness to merge and for the way it lyrically makes us see her through her aching:

Gotta get my head on, see where I've got to go
Find the apple, the glistening, the new tune.
Canada is sleeping and I'll swear I'll be there soon
Gonna watch the suicide of the moon.

Gypsy fever swimming each time I quit the road
I'm as confused as that housefly in my room.
I heard you had some time off and
I think you'd like the big show
I'll be through in case you want to go.

// Down to California rolling
Down to California rolling with you. //

The sad Baez-like quality with overtones of 'Diamonds and Rust' (1975) is finally redeemed by the city if not a person:

Soon I'll blow the candle out, the fires for the road
Find a corner that's safe to call my own
So California save me, take my money,
and wash me whole.
I'll be through in case you want to go.

Hailing from British Columbia in the Canadian northwest Rachelle's is also a crusade for clean drinking water. Her track 'Dirty Water' reminds listeners to be careful about dwindling resources. In Delhi in May with a sometimes 45 on the celsius, Rachelle took us to the prarie wild feeling lonesome at '45 below zero' ('January'). Not surprisingly she waded into those towels and kerchiefs to constantly swab her face.

Rachelle's voice is like cool drinking water. She clearly loves writing songs and making music. She has a friendly totally relaxed stage presence and punctuated the end of every applause with 'Thank you Delhi.' Her guitar for her was like a living thing - 'C'mon girl' she said to her guitar once, as she was arranging the tuning for the next song. Ably supported by bass guitarist and drummer, the threesome brought the house down with their pulsating R n B.

The next day she was playing in Pune at Soul. 'Don't miss it for the world' I yelled to my friend in Pune over the phone. And the day after that in Mumbai.

And I was thinking how music knits us together. And makes us all teenagers once more. As long-haired Amit Saigal, editor of Rock Street Journal (RSJ) - the guys who make this annual show posible- walked in at Mezz I cast my eyes around the floor. There were packs of college kids just sitting there, one girl in sky blue top looking specially beautifully, but with vacant eyes; harried execs who had hurriedly donned outrageous T shirts or kurtis - a saffron one with 'Om' all over - and had made the effort to tumble into the evening determined not to miss the action; and the regulars mumbling something about the do's at the 5 star's.

At college we watched wide-eyed as the science guys sometimes carried slide rules into the classrooms and lecture halls. Here with Rachelle it was a very different kind of slide rule . . .

Rachelle was a performer from the word go. There was hardly any stoppage time between songs during which she was always talking to the crowd, striking a chord with them.

She left us memories, and an inspiring performance - to galvanize our often torpid lives. Spending months sometimes on the road in a van singing, promoting her music, Rachelle showed us how music - and a dream- can make life worth living. 'Pick up some of our CDs, so we can bring up our kids,' she joked, 'I don't have any. But the bass guitarist has 5.' And in a deeper tone, like talking to her guitar, 'Maybe I'll have one next year.' And she was away into the next song.

So roll me out under the stars and the thunder
The sirens go screaming we laugh and we wander
Behind the door melodies, harmonies
And we are just fine.
('Half Pint')

Top pix courtesy

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