She has been regularly popping up on the w21Music 'New Country' Spotify playlist for some time now and all of a sudden Rachel Grae is stood in front of us, ahead of her UK debut later tonight at The Grace in Islington. Pre show she's casually dressed, a mixture of nerves and excitement as she awaits to see who will turn up tonight. She's cuts a tiny figure, ultra polite and good fun to chat to - her New York accent shining through. She considers herself to be a pop artist, and the #TEAMw21 definition of Americana and Country is a broad church that can encompass many styles - the key qualifier being that it must be good and so we find ourselves with plenty of ground to overlap. As the evening progresses it will turn out that Rachel's definition of "Pop artist" is an equally wide net pulling in many styles.
Because of her strong lyric writing - ( go check out "Daughter" ) she's been recommended to go to Nashville, and she already is aware of Avery Anna the Nashville based teen who wowed at C2C 2022. With over a million followers on Tik Tok she is clearly doing something right. This one off UK show is happy side benefit of having Rachel come to the UK to do some writing - she reasoned if she was coming this far then she might as well play a gig as well. It is only subsequent that we find out from her Management, that Rachel has only clocked up about twenty or so live shows so far, which seems crazy given what we are about to witness.
The Grace is surely London's most glitter balled venue - it's tiny stage tonight will encompass a keyboard player Aimee Smith who will free Rachel up to be mobile, a guitarist in Charlie Beaver and a fabulous female drummer Izzy Lamberti who will inject an urgency and excitement into the evenings proceedings. The room has the feel of something special about it - a select number of people getting to see one of the fastest rising talents in music, up close and personal - in years to come we'll be able to say we were there!! The front row is full of adoring fans who have nabbed their positions immediately the doors opened, they will sing their hearts out, Rachel will often break the fourth wall to speak to them - every tiny interaction will be captured on a mobile phone. There was definitely a unique bond being created between artist and fans, one that #TEAMw21 suspects will rapidly be replicated propelling Rachel forward at an accelerated rate.
As Rachel takes to the stage in her college style jacket, the front row erupts in screams and immediately we are launched into "Friend Like Me". Stripped of it's poppy production, it instantly becomes a more robust song, the drumming and guitar giving it some real edge. Rachel looks born to the stage,, hand holding the mic, offering it out to the crowd for them to sing - firing out the lyrics of the chorus as required, clearly loving every minute.
"Hello everybody how are you - So cool"
For "Colourblind", there is initially a chance to catch breath, the intro and first verse are just Rachel and the piano - the microphone is back in the stand and Rachel clasps it with both hands, as the front row sways in front of her. The band eventually kick in and are clearly enjoying themselves, mouthing along to every word. Rachel is completely at home belting out her vocals to great effect. There are 2 white lights firing out over Rachel's shoulders for "How Dare You" - the light reflects back off the many mirror balls onto Rachel's face to make a great image. The song is drama all the way, Izzy's drumming alone ramping up the tension, while Rachel would take to prowling the tiny stage.
"I was over it
The moment you said it was over Never wanted this So why are you asking for closure?"
The front row cry out the final line at full volume
"You're amazing" comes a cry from the crowd which Rachel takes in her stride with a low key "Thank you" .
A new song comes in the shape of "Your Loss" - which manages to extend the word "Loss" over a record number of syllables. The band are able to hit a funky groove and even though this is a pure dance track - it is notable for the strength of its lyrics and also the way Rachel handles the vocals and even some extra stage craft as she acts out the
"Want me back" line.
There is another big piano intro into "Love I've Been Jealous Of" which turns into something of an epic with Rachel putting every ounce of passionate energy into delivering the chorus
The audience which so far had not been shy in coming forward was asked for vocal assistance on the less subtle "Artists Athletes Assholes" - this would be where her New York attitude would come to the fore. This opens to a completely different sound, Charlie strumming of an electric guitar, which combined with the power back beat from Izzy turned this into an almost new wave style tune welded to a pure pop chorus - Rachel visibly smiling as she held out the microphone once more for the audience to sing out their alliterative contribution.
There is a simply sublime moment during the unreleased "Be What You Are" where Rachel takes the phone from someone face timing to give the viewer at the other end a glimpse of The Grace to their visible delight.
During our conversation earlier in the evening Rachel had mentioned that she has been told that she should go to Nashville - her direct songwriting style would surely go down a storm there and a hint of the sort of thing she might produce duly arrived.
The regular band left the stage and support act Louis Knight was welcomed back to play acoustic guitar on "Nicole & Me". Firstly Rachel brought the room to a hush to explain the background of the song - which in itself was moving - The song would turn out to be the most Americana tune of the evening - Rachel's vocals still had volume but now had a delicate mellifluous quality to them as she painted a picture of the homeless subject of the song with vibrant descriptive lyrics. This showed just what a depth there is it to her songwriting skills.
Leaving the stage after a big hug, Louis was replaced by the returning Aimee on keyboards for "The Best" - off stage to the right the Izzt the drummer visibly lived every line of the lyric mouthing along with great gusto. This was another song that could sit quite happily on either side of the country / pop divide.
""I wish you the best but you already had it
Whoever comes next I hope they make you happy
I hope that you find someone who's going to put in all the work
Be patient and give you what you don't deserve
I wish you the best but I think we both know
You had it - had it - but you let it go"
This was packed with emotion and the audience hung on every word in absolute silence.
After such high drama we went to a different kind of action at the other end of the spectrum with the forthcoming single "You Suck" - this had a glorious new wave energy powered by some wonderful guitar work and some once again par excellence drumming. This was rawkus mayhem and we loved every second of it. It was to prove to be the last song of the main set. After a short break there was time for a crowd pleasing encore in Katy Perry's "The One That Got Away" which was suitably roughed up - Rachel firing off the lyrics at a rapid rate.
There show may have been over but was still time to for Rachel to chat and mingle with the audience, topping off for many in the room what had already been an excellent night - Rachel Grae's London debut had been an unqualified success.
The evening had commenced with a short but entertaining set from Louis Knight who was British but had been on American Idol making the top seven. Opening with "Mia" he received a rapturous welcome for his efforts. He would continue with a line in sad love songs "Make This Up"
saw him breaking out of his song to chat to the front row - It came with a rousing chorus, his right hand furiously strumming,
his eyes closed and his face screwed up as he sang,
Moving to the piano he unloaded another sad song in "Biggest Mistake", this was big ballad material and he proved to have the ability to deliver a moving performance. Keeping the mood downbeat, though admitting it with a smile on his face, came "Change" which had it's origins in suicide. To lighten the mood a little, came a Harry Styles cover in the shape of "Falling" to the delight of the front row of adoring fans. His forthcoming single "Hold Me" was being played for the first time, it came with a plaintive chorus. During the soundcheck before speaking to Rachel we had seen Louis try out a call and response section for the first time - it went so well that he included it in the final section of the song.
His final song "Fell For You Back Then" would be his most uptempo song of the night and again received a huge ovation.
Pre Save the brand new single 'You Suck" out 23rd June!
Hear tomorrows stars today on the w21Music genre blurring 'New Country' Spotify playlist
For more information please visit https://www.rachelgrae.com/