Rachel Ana Dobken isn’t satisfied with the ordinary. Her work is a brilliant amalgamation of extraordinary jazz influences, heart-aching soul rhythms and incendiary indie rock instincts. The Asbury Park native is a multi-instrumentalist who feels just at home behind a microphone or a guitar as she does a piano or a set of drums — which makes sense as she studied jazz drumming, vocals and guitar at Bard College in New York. She often describes her sound as “My Morning Jacket meets Lake Street Dive.”
The result of growing up as a self-dubbed “music nerd",” her music is littered with tangential inspirations from every conceivable genre and musical discipline. When she was younger, she absorbed music from artists like Paul Simon, The Band and Incubus, never allowing her attention to stay motionless for any sustained period of time. Every aspect of a song was fair game for her to unravel and rebuild, developing a remarkable understanding of song structure and method in the process.
On her latest record, “When It Happens to You,” she develops a hook-laden melodicism that plays well with the denser aspects of her work. It was written, produced and arranged by Dobken, allowing her to fully integrate herself within the boundaries of each song. Raw, earnest and almost uncomfortably personal at times, the album doesn’t shy away from everyday darkness but also never wallows in desperation, providing a subtle lightness to balance some of the more acerbic moments she presents.
Recently, Dobken took some time with The Southern Sounding to discuss a few of her favorite and most influential records. Check out her choices and thoughts below.
The Band - “Music from Big Pink”
I am and forever will be in love with The Band. I tell people the reason I play music is because of Levon Helm and Richard Manuel. I don’t want to write music like The Band (a., because it’s not 1968 and b., because no one could do what they did) but the biggest take away I have from this is their MUSICALITY, CHEMISTRY and ABILITY to be whatever they wanted to be. To write and create the music that came from their hearts. I love the musical layers to this album, the weirdness, the VOCALS, ARRANGEMENTS and TONES, the GROOVES — yes, LEVON. That first hit with "Tears of Rage," Richard Manuel’s gut-wrenching vocals could make me cry every time… and "In A Station"… so weird but amazingly unique — and those lyrics: “Isn’t everybody dreaming? / Then the voice I hear is real / Out of all the idle scheming, / Can’t we have something to feel?”
Incubus - “A Crow Left of the Murder”
Another favorite band of mine growing up: Incubus. They will always hold a special place in my heart. I owned 3 copies of this album, because I played it so much. I even quoted a line from it for my Senior Yearbook quote. It all goes back to musical chemistry and genuine-ness. The EMOTIONAL and MUSICAL energy in this is so palpable and unique. I love Mike Eingizer’s approach to playing (both his riffs and arpeggios) and his tones on this record. It’s heavy and rocking, but it’s also pretty and ethereal, the right blend for me. I also love that it still feels relevant in certain ways, more “current” indie-rock, even though it was done in 2005. I love "Made For TV Movie," "Sick Sad Little World," "A Crow Left of the Murder." I will never understand why people underrate Incubus so much… people, time to go dig deep into their discography!
John Mayer - “Continuum”
John Mayer is a musical genius and Continuum is my favorite of his albums. Seriously — “Gravity"? "I Don’t Trust Myself"? “Vultures"?! It’s an all around fantastic work of art that never gets old. From production quality and arrangements, to what I believe to be some of John’s best lyrical writings, it’s deep, metaphorical and heavy while staying simple, tasteful and to the point. The more you break down everything it just is SO DAMN GOOD, really this is one of those records I feel straight to my bones and know, yes, this is why I love music. And let’s talk about the line-up of musicians: Pino, Steve Jordan (co-producer as well), Charlie Hunter, Roy Hargrove (so sad, R.I.P.)….
Jeff Buckley - “Live At Sin-é”
I struggled to figure out which Jeff Buckley record to choose — either this or Grace. I went with Sin-é because it had such a strong impact on me at a time I was beginning to find myself musically. It taught me what it meant to be a true performer, what it’s truly all about. That the true depth of music has nothing to do with man-power, but everything to do with being real and fucking GENUINE. It could be the simplest little thing. The little “suckiest water” comments, an a cappella opening about “being your husband,” it makes one imagine what it would like to be in the same room with him. Also, my favorite versions of “Drown In My Own Tears” and “Just Like a Woman,” ever. It’s everything I stand for musically. Real, raw, intimate, personal. A window into Jeff’s soul, I love you.
My Morning Jacket - “The Waterfall”
Seriously, I love MMJ and when I got ahold of this, I had it on repeat for months. I absolutely love the guitar tones on this record, especially the epic-ness of “In Its Infancy” when the song kicks into high gear, like a train pacing down the tracks then BOOM! This is an extremely visual and textural album for me, and something we referenced a lot while working on When It Happens To You. I heard Jim James in an interview talk about how this record was about rebirth… the feeling of spring coming right around the corner… A+ effort.