Asbury Park-based multi-hyphenated talent Rachel Ana Dobken lives up to her acronym with a rad new record - a multi-instrumental mix of soul, folk, and indie rock debut full-length called “When It Happens to You.” PHOTO BY DANNY CLINCH
Praise the Rock Gods, the Jersey Shore did not get a hurricane this year! But we did get a musical one: Asbury Park-based Rachel Ana Dobken’s debut full-length “When It Happens to You,” a cross between the soulful sounds and folky lyricism of Carol King and the edgy chops of Screaming Females. There are so many interesting sounds on this record, such as little finger snaps beneath powerful horns and a swirling Hammond B3 or an oddly tuned acoustic guitar alongside an electric that pines so hauntingly, it sounds like a slide is being used.
The most interesting instruments of all, however, are Dobken’s diverse vocals and prose-like storytelling. Lyrics slide and glide so close to the edge of a line, they nearly run into the next one. The rich results, produced, written and arranged by Dobken, make for an unusual and powerful record, a far superior follow-up to the 2016 EP, “Detach.”
The opening “Intro” is a cool, breezy instrumental that slightly recalls Chris Isaak and relies somewhat on the jazz chops Dobken developed at Bard College. Next is “Belief Beneath,” a chronicle of miscommunication and a lack of communication between both lovers and haters. I love the line, “I’m stumbling and this world is crumbling.”
Featuring a sweet, chunky bass line by Dan Haase, “Always” looks at the struggles and joys of a lasting relationship. The aforementioned guitar pine of Ryan MacLean makes the breakup song “Got Away” one of the standout tracks. Lyrically, the atmospheric tune is along the lines of “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change,” but without the comedy.
“Understand” is a particularly well-produced track that nicely pairs Dobken’s sweet, soulful vocal with quirky keyboard bits, then uses a cooing, bird-like vamp as an additional instrument in the middle of the tune and at a rousing end. Lyrically, the strongest song on the album is the musically sparse “Learning to Let Go.” Here’s a sample of why: “Learning how to let go, trying to find the words to say goodbye. Thinking you should know though that happiness is just a state of mind. But all I see is the side of me feeling stuck in the in-between because every night I’m losing sleep. I can’t figure out what’s bothering me, and if I die before my time. Comes in the morning, comes without warning.”
With both “Us” and “Taking My Time,” Dobken takes a more whimsical approach to melody. On the Natalie Merchant-like “Us,” that approach defies the penetrating poetics about a growing relationship that has blossomed into love. With “Taking My Time,” the whimsy is matched by an eerie carnival sound made more haunting by MacLean’s finely finessed pine. Both tunes feature the playful bass playing of The Burns’ Chris Dubrow in great interplay with Dobken’s and MacLean’s guitars.
That brings us to the standout closer, “Everybody Wants,” which taps into the rich gospel music and horn-driven rock ‘n’ soul of Asbury Park. The inventive tune features great performances by Waiting on Mongo trumpeter Bruce Krywinski and bari saxman Denis Daley and trombonist Ian Gray, both of Remember Jones and Shady Street Show Band. Kudos also goes to Mark Masefield for his awesome Hammond B3 work.
Dobken often performs at Danny Clinch Transparent Gallery in Asbury, where she is curator of live music. Clinch returned the favor by taking the album photos of “When It Happens to You” and contributing harmonica to it.
Dobken also will play Jan. 12 at Asbury’s Wonder Bar opening for Scott Sharrad, guitarist of the late, great Gregg Allman. Tune into Dobken’s Instagram for tour and other announcements.
Bob Makin is the reporter for www.MyCentralJersey.com/entertainment and a former managing editor of The Aquarian Weekly, which launched this column in 1988. Contact him at email@example.com. And like Makin Waves at www.facebook.com/makinwavescolumn.