That the death of Rachael Kilgour’s marriage is the subject of her third album is abundantly clear in the opening track, “You’re Through”:
I learned to love you,
Though I never thought I could.
Learned to take you in stride,
Learned to jump when I should.
And you tell me you're through,
You tell me you're through.
That doesn't mean I’m going to stop loving you.
She goes on: “And you’ll scream and cry on someone else’s shoulder/And I’ll know for sure then, oh, we’ll both know it’s over,” which turns the chorus to anguish before ending with: “Somehow I’ll learn to stop loving you.” Clearly, Rabbit in the Road is a part of that effort.
When you devote an entire album to the end of a marriage, and when you happen to have been born in Duluth, Minnesota, then Bob Dylan’s Blood of the Tracks is going to be point of a reference. But despite the affinity of their titles, Rabbit in the Road is as far removed from cryptic images and poetic allusions as a singer-songwriter can get. These are songs about naked emotion and how coming to terms with its intensity takes time.
A better musical comparison would be to Courtney Love’s America’s Sweetheart, in which Kurt Cobain’s widow rips off her scabs and sings about the painful loss of a life partner. Even if you do not personally know Kilgour and her ex-wife, we have met them and their relationship in Kilgour’s previous albums.
Arranging tracks on an album necessitates strategic selection, which matters even more with a concept album. If anything, the songs follow the Elisabeth Kubler-Ross model of grief: Denial (“Still My Wife”), anger (“Deep Bruises”), bargaining (“Ready Freddie”), depression (“I Pray”), and acceptance (“Don’t Need Anyone”). But in the throes of grief, we become unstuck in time and hopscotch randomly through those stages.
There is evidence of more than one stage in the title track: “I know you didn’t mean to hurt me/You just did what you do best,” and the final line of the chorus: “I cannot say I trust you, and I don’t want to be your friend, but I think I see your goodness again.” It is interesting this is not the final song on the album.
“Up From Down” provides the elements from Kilgour’s previous albums that are most missing on this one—a cheerful melody and sweet harmonies. The latter is rendered ironic, since all the harmonies are now provided by Kilgour herself or by producer Catie Curtis. The greater irony comes from this song expressing some of the most painful sentiments on the entire album.
“Don’t Need Anyone” sounds like Kilgour doth protest too much, but it speaks about the need for room to grow, and the chorus ends on a hopeful sentiment: “If I’m going to fall apart, I’ll put my own self back together.” The track makes nice use of Paul Wright’s cello to provide a musical light at the end of the tunnel.
Six years ago, Kilgour’s second album, Will You Marry Me? had several songs about her marriage, but most were devoted to the social issues that have warranted her attention. She has written such songs over the course of the last three years, but she was smart to keep them off this album, where they would have felt out of place.
But focusing on a single subject does mean there will be some overlap. “Deep Bruises” and “Hit By a Bus” speak to the physical pain of emotional loss. Her rejoinder in the former is to follow an accusation, “So quick to profess your love,” with a bitter warning, “Not everyone is as gullible, as gullible as me.”
It is not until the eighth track that Kilgour turns to the third member of the family, her daughter. The electric piano ballad “Mama” benefits from a change in instrumentation, while the change in topic lifts both Kilgour’s spirit and voice:
Because I made a promise,
And I’m going to keep it.
It’s not blood that makes it true,
It’s the love that I have for you.
Admitting that “Right now everything is changing, and that’s not good,” Kilgour vows, “I’m not just your used-to-be stepmom, and you’re not just my used to be kid.” “I am yours, always” is coupled with a universal statement about parenthood: “You’re on my mind day and night, crossing my fingers as I watch you take flight.”
The final track, “Break Wide Open,” serves as the album’s benediction and offers its most involved production elements, which I take to signify the completion of an exhaustive cathartic experience. My guess is Kilgour will not return to this subject in her next album.
One of the dedications is “To the love that was worth mourning and the love that is new and worth the risk,” suggesting the possibility of moving on. Of course, in writing about the end of a marriage, an artist reveals herself the most, which is why I hope Kilgour’s fourth album will come to fruition by the end of the decade.