Rachel Baiman started playing violin when she was four, and she took to traditional fiddle music right away. By the time she reached high school she was an accomplished player who had won several fiddling contests.
Then a scholarship to Vanderbilt University changed her life, in more ways than she might have imagined. A Chicago native, she never expected to live in the South, but a few years in Nashville altered her perspective on music.
“I’ve been here 10 years now, and the first few years were an education in songs,” said Baiman, who will perform a free outdoor concert at the Hill Center on October 14. “It’s a song-based town.”
In college, Baiman picked up the banjo and started to sing, something she hadn’t really done before. She formed a duo with Christian Sedelmyer, called 10 String Symphony because they both play five-string fiddles, and started writing songs for that project. The more she wrote, the more she felt compelled to write. While she continued to play traditional music and do side gigs with artists like Kacey Musgraves, she was discovering her own voice. “I’ve always been someone who enjoys arranging and putting songs together, and that’s not something you get to do if you’re an instrumentalist,” she said.
Last year Baiman released her first solo record of mostly original songs, titled Shame. She wrote the title track during the 2016 election. “There were some things I really wanted to say. I wanted to put my own name on them,” she said. The tune, driven by a a cheerful banjo, contrasts with the serious lyrics – “kind of pissed off with a smile,” she said.
“I wanted that to be an anthem from women to women. The chorus is an affirmation: ‘There is no shame.’ It’s not sad, it’s empowering.”
Baiman feels that politics is personal, but she also writes songs about relationships, like the languid and wistful “I Could Have Been Your Lover Too.” Throughout the record, electric guitar blends with the more traditional sounds of fiddle and banjo. It’s a significant departure from the Scottish fiddle tunes on her previous album.
In some ways, Baiman knows she is taking a less predictable road than if she had focused on a career as an instrumentalist. “I could still be making fiddle tune albums, but I’m not pushing down that path.”
Jim Lauderdale at City Winery
Jim Lauderdale is a prolific songwriter and performer who has had a great career in music by almost any measure. His songs have been recorded by artists such as Elvis Costello, George Strait and the Dixie Chicks. He has won two Grammy awards for Best Bluegrass Album, including one record that he made with the legendary Ralph Stanley. Some of his fine songs, like “Sad Bell,” have been featured on NPR, and he has put out a new record about once a year for more than two decades.
Now Lauderdale is touring in support of a new album – Time Flies – and a lost record that he made with mandolin virtuoso Roland White in 1979. He comes to City Winery in Ivy City on Oct. 31 with Amelia White, another excellent Nashville songwriter.
At the time that Jim Lauderdale and Roland White was recorded, Lauderdale wasn’t able to get a label to release it, and the tapes were lost until White’s wife found them in a box last year. The record was released this August on the same day as Time Flies – “bookends” of his career, Lauderdale has said.
It’s a career rich in accomplishment, as chronicled in the documentary film, The King of Broken Hearts. While he has never become the mainstream country star that some people expected he would be, Lauderdale is admired by his peers and adored by his fans. And his songs speak for themselves.