Rachel Croft – Hours Awake

Album Review | Self Release | Review by Marc Higgins | Stars: 4/5

Rachel Croft is a North Yorks based singer and musician of considerable talents, vocally and instrumentally. This is her debut album, collecting songs written over the last five years. Straight off Hours Awake grabs you and takes no prisoners. “Old Climbing Tree” is moody and ethereal with a captivating low register vocal from Rachel. She just purrs through “Hear Me” and “Don’t Feel Like Holding On” like a rawer more sassy Katie Melua. “I’m Blue” has the vocal cadence of a huskier early 70s Joni Mitchell with some tasteful guitar by Emlyn Vaughan. “Only Dreams” is an absolutely classic radio ballad, nods to Bonnie Tyler or Judie Tzuke. Rachel’s voice goes from a smoulder at the start to a full throttle torch singer by the end. Minimal percussion and atmospheric guitar by the excellent Dan Webster and strings give the vocalist room to fly.

Accompanied by her own acoustic guitar, “Rainier Day” and “Change Your Mind” are classic 60s or early 70s folk troubadour, melancholic atmospheric and hypnotic with wafts of cello, percussion and guitar breeze in and out. Play it alongside Francois Hardy’s French folk pop noir self titled album from 1972 or Nick Drake’s Bryter Layter for that same breezy light but emotionally charged mix. “Long Were The Hours” evokes that contemporary celtic folk rock dark sparkle of the first Cranberries album, its that vocalise refrain that takes me straight back on this beautifully brooding track. “6000 Miles” is the theme music for a film or European detective drama. Rachel’s vocal is just sublime, crackling with a gospel edge while Nathan O’Gradys second vocal adds a wonderful contrast.

If, like me, you thought Lianne La Havas’ “No Room For Doubt” duet with Willy Mason was the best thing either of them have done so far, then this track with tickle you too. “Can’t Replace Your Perfect” is soulful perfection. There is a swagger, a groove and growl, the spirit of Jack Johnson or Shelby Lynne flows through Rachel as she testifies, very saving the best till last. Like the previous track the supporting singers bring out of the finest in Rachel, who is just hitting her stride on the fade. That Rachel produced the evocative wood cut like images for the album packaging, designed, storyboarded and edited the music video for “Only Dreams” is evidence of the breadth of her talents. Her considerable vocal power, presence and prowess, alongside her playing and writing is testament to the range of musical ability on this a very strong first album.