Rainbow Girls’ ‘American Dream’ Brings Stripped Back Harmonies & Nimble Finger Picking (ALBUM REVIEW)

American Dream is the third album by California folk band Rainbow Girls, but it is the first with the band’s new scaled-back lineup. Now a trio consisting of Erin Chapin, Caitlin Gowdey, and Vanessa May, Rainbow Girls delivers an album of ten socially conscious indie folk songs. Stripped down to a point of being nearly devoid of anything resembling a rhythm section, American Dream features soft finger-picked acoustic guitars, beautiful harmonies, and stories that are at times introspective and at others intentionally provocative. Each song has its own designated hashtag, meant to spark discussion among fans.

There are few lead vocals on the album. Instead, the three voices weave together, intertwining in a way that is at times dreamlike, at times haunting, and at times startlingly beautiful. The opening title track (#TheLandSong) finds Gowdey, Chapin, and May singing about the perceived contradictions of someone striving for the so-called American Dream while struggling to get by. “Start at the bottom; wake yourself up,” they sing, the harmonizing vocals punctuating the statements’ irony.

Songs like “Cameron Sterling (#BlackLivesMatter)” and “Song for Standing Rock (#Resist)” are the most blatant protest anthems. “All I can hear are your cries,” they sing on the former, addressed to the son of Alton Sterling. The latter track is the album’s worst song, a dull and repetitive protest that fails to resonate on the same level as the rest of the album. “People are standing up for their land; people are standing up for their water,” they sing.

While American Dream is largely political, it thrives when Rainbow Girls look inward, drawing from the band’s own experiences. In “The Folksinger’s Contract (#Vanlife),” the vocals ebb and flow between three-part harmony and Chapin’s solo voice, with Chapin’s harmonica flourishes adding to the song about the disconnect of trying to manage a relationship while touring. “The path I walk will cause turmoil,” they sing. “You want a lover in your bed, but I’m sleeping on strangers’ couches instead.”

Perhaps the most uplifting and optimistic track is “Something I’ve Been Meaning to Say (#UnionpartII).” Amid upbeat acoustic strumming and slide guitar, the Girls (led by May) sing of a desire to settle down. “I want to be your gal; I want to be your love-struck baby but I don’t know how,” they sing.

The bluesy “Can We Keep This Love Alive (#Yes)” closes out the album in surprising fashion. It is a bit of a left turn, a song built on electric guitar, drums, and bass ending an album that was almost entirely acoustic and sans rhythm section, but it works. American Dream is an album of juxtapositions: the American ideal with injustice, a desire for commitment with the reality of life on the road, angelic harmonized voices that sing enraged protests. Rainbow Girls’ stripped-down sound for American Dream allows the listener to focus on those juxtapositions, to ponder their meanings, and to create a dialogue around them.

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