New York City based Rachelle Garniez has been much admired as a singer, songwriter, and instrumentalist. Her most recent recording, Gone to Glory, chronicles her interpretation of songs written or made famous by a variety of dearly beloved artists, all recently departed. The project began in 2016, a year which brought shocking and unexpected losses on many fronts. David Bowie, Prince, and Leonard Cohen had all died over the last twelve months, and there was, alongside that immeasurable cultural bereavement, a national political climate of unrest and seemingly irreconcilable division. The original Farewell Party concert was conceived and performed at Pangea, New York CIty’s home to alternative cabaret performance. People were starved for the chance to mourn and celebrate, and the Farewell Party became an annual event. The resulting Gone to Glory collection is a covers album that’s also about recovering, an uplifting assertion that while death may wreck our world, we still survive to enjoy all that’s been bequeathed.
With the depth of her talent and the breadth of her interests, Garniez’ vocal approach eloquently transfigures pop and rock, swing and soul - from the aforementioned Bowie, Prince, and Cohen, to Glen Campbell, Lemmy’s Motörhead, Aretha Franklin, Nancy Wilson, Della Reese, Sharon Jones, Mose Allison, and big band singer Bea Wain. With her masterful fluidity in full effect, she embodies the characters and inhabits the worlds. Equally at home in the incarnations of an adolescent hippie chick, a deeply troubled Viet Nam War veteran, a young Dutch WWII refugee, a heartless hipster, and a whole slew of romantics, Garniez simultaneously loses herself and finds a way to make the songs her own.
The arrangements are built around the Farewell Party band - Garniez (piano, accordion, guitar) with Karen Waltuch (viola) and Derek Nievergelt (double bass). Frequently expanding from that core, there’s a rich orchestral palette, reflecting Rachelle’s myriad influences and inspirations. Horns, strings, and background chorus vocals, together with cameos by french horn, classical harp, and campfire harmonica, alternately evoke Klezmer and Cajun, doo wop, blues, and r ’n’ b, latin, jazz, and show. Five of the songs have instrumental introductions functioning as mini-memorials, referencing, among others, Glen Frey (guitar solo from “Hotel California”), Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia theme), Debbie Reynolds (“Singin’ in the Rain”), and Bernardo Bertolucci (theme from Last Tango in Paris).
As to subject matter, the Gone to Glory songs range from the fantastically awful to the redeeming wonders of the everyday, tracing an emotionally affective arc from abject despair to accepting embrace. Death looms large, by turns comedic (“Killed by Death”), tragic (“Ruby (Don’t Take Your Love to Town)”), and documentary (“The Day Is Past and Gone”). Monsters are everywhere - specters of alienation (“Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)”), self-delusion (“Rhinestone Cowboy”), PTSD (“My Sister and I”), and toxic patriotism (“Monsters of the Id”). But love is offered up as countervailing, manifesting multiform, from hopeless (“100 Days, 100 Nights”) to romantic (“Dont You Know” and “How Glad I Am’), from earthy (“Raspberry Beret”) to paradisal (“Day Dreaming”), from crushing innocence (“Frank Mills”) to universal experience (“Anthem”).
Regarding her singular style, The New Yorker has written, “Garniez wanders through the genres of country, jazz and pop, leaving behind nothing but sweet wreckage.” Indeed, with her latest album, Rachelle locates a certain saving sweetness among the ruins, gathering glory from the gone.