words by maria sledmere
There’s something inherently enticing about songs with that artfully flavoured Americana, especially when sitting at your window in Glasgow, watching the rain wash out the muggy remnants of another drab day in June. Erin Rae came to my attention as East Nashville’s queen of harmonies, a singer-songwriter whose smoothly lilting vocals do to the retro fuzz of a pedal-steel guitar what Feist does to fresh licks of percussion, creating some enchanting combination that stirs inside you the twangs of sorrow and joy. Like a lush polaroid portrait of a figure standing among autumn trees, Rae’s songs create a sense of space; the languid rhythms give us time to ease into iridescent memories while the wistful sweetness of her voice gleans focal attention. There’s that easeful negotiation of movement and stasis; as the guitar rocks with tasteful grit beneath her delicate trill, there’s a sense of anxiety but also the flickers of carefully flowering beauty.
Riding on the back of 2015’s debut LP, Soon Enough, a jewelline collection of country-tinged contemporary folk, Rae has recently released two new singles, “Like The First Time” and “Wild Blue Wind”. The former, released this week at the start of her UK tour, bristles with a worldly wisdom that nonetheless remains open to innocence, a way of staying green when the fade-out glaze of sadness and nostalgia threatens to sink us somewhere darker. It’s a ballad of forlorn mourning, addressed to a former lover, simple and sweet in the manner of John Baez’s folk-pop favourite, “Silver Dagger”: “Tried to give you what you wanted / and my heart breaks like the first time”. The song rolls on without a climax; just that melancholy sense of coming to an ending, absorbing a relationship’s decline through the level-headed Dylanesque narrative of keep on keeping on. The setting is a “dirty town”, but the song isn’t claustrophobic; its subtle psyche guitars do atmospheric arabesques beneath soft drums and trills of piano which carry us on like a river. Rae has mastered a sense of restraint that complements the elusive sparkle of her harmonies, the clean stream of her soothing voice.
Wild Blue Wind has a more traditional country feel. The clarity of Rae’s vocals captures varying shades of melancholy, soaring brightly over sparse drums and restrained strumming; it’s this weaving of sad and sweet that irrevocably seduces. The song tells the story of a friend’s decline, Rae’s words nurturing empathy and expressing her powerlessness over everyday tragedy through a sequence of cinematic images, scattering them like seedlings in the wind, drawing back to the comfort of chorus, the wayfaring title. Despite this powerlessness, this drifting, Rae anchors us in a wary sense of hope: “He asks me will he be okay / I say sure, but I don’t know when”.
As on a classic Gillian Welch number, “Wild Blue Wind” suggests that the pain around us can be redeemed by trying, by taking the road less taken: by making art, by finding beauty in the plain and pure, by simply reaching out to others. It feels dewy-eyed and a bit romantic, sure; but the story of drugs, decline and despair has universal resonance. Rae’s ability to take that familiar narrative and draw something fresh from its timeless existence is a tribute to both her innovative spirit and commitment to tradition.
Just as Angel Olsen strikes indie’s sweet spot between folk rock and the feminine warbles of classic country, Erin Rae fuses genres in a way that truly seems to glow. “Like The First Time” and “Wild Blue Wind” feel nostalgic but never contrived, the sentiment crisp as those fuzzy guitars. If you need a few tracks to pass the summer away with or luxuriate in loneliness to, these might provide the goods; equally, Rae’s knack for multi-instrumental intricacy promises an exciting live show. She tours the UK in June with her band “The Meanwhiles” and details of her upcoming record will be announced in the very near future.
Erin Rae is on tour now – view the full set of dates here:
JUN 20 TUE – Green Note, London
JUN 21 WED – The Canteen, Bristol
JUN 22 THU – Poppy And Pint, Nottingham
JUN 23 FRI – Thimblemill Library, Birmingham
JUN 24 SAT – The Forge at Anvil Arts, Basingstoke
JUN 25 SUN – St. Mary’s Hall, Whitstable
JUN 27 TUE – The Hug & Pint, Glasgow
JUN 28 WED – The Depot, Edinburgh
JUN 29 THU – The Ex-Servicemens Club, Corby
JUN 30 FRI – Maverick Festival, Marlingford