Hailing from the vast expanses of South Dakota, Rachel Ries can bring grown men to tears.

Songwriting is an inextricable part of existence for Ries, who is constantly crafting songs. She has released myriad recordings, two highlights of which are On Laurel Lake EP and Without a Bird.

Besides overflowing with massive doses of honesty, On Laurel Lake EP reveals skilled production and recording techniques. In this album, Ries’ trembling harmonies punctuate her sophisticated melodies. Her craftsmanship is apparent on this exquisite folk album. From the slightest wavering of vocals to the gentlest of brushes on the guitar pickups, Ries captures it all on the recording.

Ries tackled the album by herself on a personal retreat in Tennessee and dug deep to patch the songs together. While not as seemingly hip as Bon Iver’s Blood Bank, her recordings on the EP have a poignant delicacy that allows it to exist free from hype. In a different vein from the folk-oriented pastorals of On Laurel Lake EP Ries’ 2007 release, Without A Bird explores her relationship with the city of Chicago.

Across albums, Ries’ music constantly grapples with the tumultuous dichotomy between life in the city and life in the country. In her own words: “This life I’ve chosen felt suddenly precarious, muddled, and far too far from the source. What do we really need? Out here in the ‘real’ world I ask for so much more than family, faith, food, and shelter. So much vapor.”

While Ries’ songs are heartbreaking, they are not love songs. They speak to life — its joys and its anguish. Memories, dreams, and illusions sit beside anguished lonesomeness in Ries’ songs to create a heart-wrenchingly powerful combination.