Rachel Ana Dobken – The Church Street Demo (2014)

Recorded almost entirely alone, from the guitars and drums to “foot-tapping, some piano,” Rachel Ana Dobken’s Church Street Demo is quiet but assertive, spacious but filled with resonant moments. Tucked away in a house on the aforementioned road in Red Hook, New York, Dobken crafted a series of layered, conceptually fascinating songs that often defy categorization.

“Nothing (Obscurity),” both lyrically and in its presentation of that flinty narrative, is as edgy and confrontational as anything Ani DiFranco ever did, and yet Dobken surrounds those sharp-edged words with a ruminative, oaken atmosphere straight out of the Band’s turn-of-the-1970s catalog. That is, until the knifing coda — which finds Dobken dueling with Ryan MacLean, who adds additional electric guitar and bass.

Moments like that, the first of several here, make good on a nascent promise of the modern, technology-driven DiY movement: That is, to finally, blessedly render the old genre rules obsolete. Dobken’s quick-witted four-song EP makes no concessions, mixing and matching ideas and styles with a Cuisinart-y flair for the unexpected. Just when you have pinned down a track like “All in Your Head Pinned Down” — stuttering roots rock, maybe a whisper of blues? — her jazz-inflected, boldly confessional approach to the lyric takes it down this previously unseen exit ramp. (Theo Seman is on piano for this cut, while Matt Wade added a little B3 to “Nothing [Obscurity].”) A subsequent instrumental excursion then goes further out, all the way to the edge of fusion, before “All In Your Head” ends with a staggering finality.

In her canny next move, Dobken presents the raw and emotional “Love and Anxiety” with just an acoustic, that tapping foot and a roving vocal approach that recalls early Alanis Morrissette, though with far less affectation. As her voice echoes coldly off the walls around her, she strums with new assertiveness — and yet the silence is somehow as loud as anything coming out of Dobken’s guitar. It’s a chilling effect. She ends with the twilit “August,” a stirring moment of ruminative melancholy that slowly coils into something that is (yes, once again) all together unexpected. It’s that kind of record.

‘The Church Street Demo’ is available for download via Bandcamp.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has also explored music for publications like USA Today, Gannett News Service, All About Jazz and Popdose for nearly 30 years. Honored as newspaper columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section that was named Top 10 in the nation by the AP in 2006. Contact him at nderiso@somethingelsereviews.com.