Not your average girl 'n guitar
Rachel Laven | The Secret to a Good Life
Years of travelling seems to have taught Rachel Laven the benefits of packing light. Riding along in her tour van, it’s easy to notice that she is efficient and unencumbered by the many thankless articles that tie plenty of people down. In her company she keeps her guitar (an Aubade Acoustic, handmade by luthier Michael Armand out of LeCompte, Louisiana), a garden basket of healthy road snacks, a light bag of well chosen outfits and of course, her grandmother’s heirloom Luccheses. It is this efficiency, further reflected in the mindfulness Laven puts into her writing that helps her songs come across as so relatable. Focusing on topics that stem from a watchful, warm perspective, the delivery of her observations has a clean way of driving themes straight to the heart of a matter. She is able to sing her truths without weighing them down with unnecessary words or flowery nuances. This economical ability to perform complex humanity in a clear headed way is what sets her apart as an artist. Laven is an earnest observer. American Roots Music has a long tradition of proficient storytellers breathing life into the characters of their songs. In listening to Laven’s ballads you can hear the quality of her watchful eye surveying a scene, piecing together the most relevant colors and textures of a personality and giving easy shape to the characters that she describes. The title song on her most recent album Love and Lucchese’s is a paramount example of this ability. As a listener you get the opportunity to slip your own feet into the hallmark boots, gifted to Laven by her immigrant grandmother. You get to feel the familial connection and the love and pride of accepting such a gift. Within her lyrics, you also get to see how she writes in the passage of time as a playful character in its own right, harboring a secret smile for those who know how to listen.
Born into a home pulsing with songwriters and musicians she has observed the craftsmanship and labor that those before her have put into their art. Though modest in accepting a compliment about her practiced guitar skills, Laven is fierce in her abilities and can easily hold her own in the midst of seasoned pickers and performers. Biting her bottom lip and then smiling through difficult progressions; it’s easy to tell that she is having fun while challenging herself against a high bar of performance and precision. Her guitar seems like a spirited Akhal-Teke that she enjoys riding for the thrill of the smooth speed. A positive force of nature on stage, Laven not only captivates with her smiling lyricism but with the timber of a voice that sounds straight out of her chest. In the tradition of her cherished influences: Susan Gibson, Terri Hendrix, Walt Wilkins, Slaid Cleaves, and Ani DiFranco, Laven’s vocalisations don’t strain too far from her speaking voice which is buoyant and melodic with a gentle,Texan accent. She is a powerhouse of energy, breathing through notes breezily with a passionate aire and a cool, side-smiling tonality. For years it has been Laven’s youth that has inspired many to comment on her exceptional abilities as a performer and though still beaming with the glow of youth, it is the commitment to her craft as an adult that strengthens the draw that she has with her audience. Laven seems to grow with every new song that she writes, as if each one were a personal project that she developed while internally dialoguing about life and love with herself. A classic intuit, she allows her songs to speak for themselves; giving them over to her audience with a soft disclaimer, “If you have glass hands, don’t hold me.” Yet, in her candour you know that she trusts the strength of her listeners, offering honest personal accounts and tributes. If the secret to a good life is indeed to dare, Rachel Laven is for sure living one. As a finalist in the 2016 Grassy Hill New Folk Songwriter’s Competition she showed up with her usual, calm confidence, winning over the audience and judges to gain entry into a cohort of outstanding songwriters including Robert Earl Keen, Jonathan Byrd, Anais Mitchell, and Slaid Cleaves. Daring to enter the songwriter’s competition won her the opportunity to empower herself as a professional songwriter, touring as a winner with the 2016 New Folk Class. Today you can see Laven touring the U.S. and Europe performing songs from her soon-to-be released album Love & Lucchese's which is set for world release this October, 2017. Vibrant, well-spoken and always reaching new heights, Rachel Laven will be known among the songwriters of her generation as an encouragement and inspiration to dare.
Collins de la Cour
Agent / PR, Green Room Music Source
San antonio express January 2017
Something happened to Rachel Laven.
It’s not just “Love & Luccheses,” her revealing 2016 album, or being counted among the winners of the Kerrville Folk Festival’s Grassy Hill New Folk competition.
Kerrville prestige is one thing; internalizing it as a motivating factor is another.
“It gave me a kick in the butt to really do it professionally and make something of it,” said Laven, who acknowledged she’ll only be “shiny and new for a year” and that newfound focus is a must.
You can see for yourself at the talented homegrown singer-songwriter’s Tuesday night residency at Liberty Bar, where she not only lets the world know what’s going on with her solo music but shares the spotlight with other female performers she admires and respects.
Laven’s monthlong residency at the Southtown restaurant with the pink exterior began last week with the impressive Austin talent Ali Holder. This week, her guest was fellow Grassy Hill New Folk winner Emily Scott Robinson.
But Laven is the star attraction, a musician growing faster than those around her may be able to fathom. Maybe even herself.
She’s become a solo artist you run to see. Wait too long and you risk being further astounded when she opens her mouth to sing. She does it by being true to her basic nature (somewhere between introspective and fearless), following her instincts and being highly personal, open and vulnerable. But she’s not that kid in the family band from The Cove or the singer from six months ago.
Laven returns to the Liberty Bar on Tuesday with Austin’s Libby Koch. Showtime is 7 p.m.
There are many precedents one could cite for the rapid change that comes as a young artist finds their voice.
It happened to the Beatles somewhere between Hamburg leather bars and playing for British royalty. It happened to Bob Dylan, who went from briefly playing piano in the background with Bobby Vee to “Blowin’ in the Wind.”
The great ones develop.
The one I prefer is the very young Joni Mitchell if you go back to her pre-fame 1965-66 period, when she was inventing herself by being herself — and learning, gaining confidence.
Existing footage of the precocious Mitchell sweetly singing folk songs like “Me and My Uncle” and “Born to Take the Highway” on Oscar Brand’s “Let’s Sing Out,” a Canadian hootenanny TV show, reveal her familiar warble was barely present in 1965.
Only a year later, on the same TV show, Mitchell is transformed, this time playing her own song, “Just Like Me,” and with her guitar tuned in an odd open tuning, her quivering vocals pitched lower and the idiosyncratic phrasing free to dance and soar with a melody that has developed. She was becoming Joni Mitchell.
Something was transforming Mitchell. Laven is there, too.
She feels it. So does her mom and sometime writing partner, Jana Laven. When Rachel was a child performer, her mother would urge her on with the phrase, “Buck up, little Bucko.” Now it’s her daughter encouraging others the same way when times are tough.
“She’s really grown, and a lot of it has been with the tours with the Kerrville New Folk winners,” Jana said about the disparate group of artists from around the country. “She’s learning from them, and they’re learning from her.”
Mom and dad usually are there in the front row at Liberty Bar for their “really normal” daughter, who is becoming as respected as, say, Terri Hendrix or Susan Gibson. Jana is witness to the boost of confidence the New Folk recognition has given her daughter. The validation, however, is not the end game.
“She’s not just enjoying it, she’s working,” Jana said.
Next month, Rachel Laven returns to the road with New Folk winners to perform at the prestigious Folk Alliance International conference in Kansas City, Missouri.
Touring with Robinson, Joe Shields, Addie Brownlee, Justin Farren and Ben de la Cour, Laven has upped her game, learning and borrowing as needed in new scenarios.
“Sharing space with five other writers was incredibly influential and eye-opening and inspiring,” she said. “We spend a lot of time writing together and critiquing each other’s work, playing unfinished songs for each other. It was just a very creative environment. Of course, I brought things to the table, too.”
About becoming Rachel Laven: “I call it stepping up to the plate,” she said. “It’s really special if you can just be you.”