Erin Rae: Lighten Up Album Review
Erin Rae makes smooth music that’s easy to listen to over and over again, but never dull. The Nashville songwriter’s 2018 album put on tunes established that strength with 12 crisp, minimalist recordings that showcased his subtle vocal style and acoustic guitar playing: it also demonstrated a consistent gift for writing earworms. With his latest album, LightenRae keeps the songwriting focused and tight while expanding her stylistic palette, landing on less folksy and more classic, unassuming pop music.
Produced by Fr. John Misty collaborator Jonathan Wilson and recorded at his Topanga Canyon studio, Lighten is unabashedly influenced by the vintage sounds of a more famous Los Angeles County canyon: the delicate, organic style of Laurel Canyon legends such as Joni Mitchell and Judee Sill is omnipresent on this album, as is the light-hearted psychedelia of the late 60s and 70s pop. -country. Bobbie Gentry, Lee Hazlewood, and Don Williams are among Rae’s named influences, and their laid-back, heavily produced aesthetic is clearly reflected in his work.
Rae and Wilson carry the weight of those familiar influences well, using floaty layers — not to mention appearances from Kevin Morby and Hand Habits — to temper their retrophilia. On the album’s catchiest track, “True Love’s Face,” Wurlitzer, organ, piano, and slide guitar creep in to create a nice, laid-back groove — the sound of talented people having fun in the studio. Five of the album’s 12 songs are complemented by a string quartet, drawing on yet another ’70s cue to deliver a more expansive and ambitious sound. At times, like on “Gonna Be Strange,” the grandeur can be cold compared to the more intimate moments, but it more often adds weight to its understated voice.
The themes of Lighten are related to those of put on tunes, further exploring the intersection of personal relationships and mental well-being. There is a tone of self-realization, ready for therapy, in some songs; “Lighten Up and Try” plays with the didactic tension of contemporary country, radio-ready songs that tell the listener what to do or feel. But there’s a sincerity to Rae’s music, both lyrical and stylistic, that makes even those feelings compelling – it comes through the speakers like a warm embrace. “Enemy,” a song about the enemies inside our own heads, is hazy and sweet, a finger-picked jam that sounds like the perfect balm for the kind of spiraling self-loathing it describes. An epic journey, “Cosmic Sigh” sidesteps the mundane jargon about personal growth in favor of poetry: “Just before the old ways die / They attract, they lie.”
Rae’s songs are so soothing and serene that some of them almost work like lullabies, earning spots on the dreaded vibe-focused playlists with tracks like “Indie and Chill” and “Soft + Slow.” . Yet his laid-back delivery and meaty backing create a rich sound that stands on its own. In the peaceful atmosphere of Lighten is a world of musical and emotional detail, crafted with seriousness and care. Rae’s lyrics are frank and upbeat, warm and sensitive; his blunt honesty speaks to the songwriting of an older vintage.
The way Rae sings, with abundant melodic flourishes, clear enunciation, and steady, intentional vibrato, also ties his music to a bygone era. Memorable, refreshing, and more rarely among his “Americana” peers, melodically interesting, his songs bring a welcome abstraction and levity to the sometimes overly literal world of 21st century country music. “Modern Woman”, by its title alone, reads like another superficial anthem of girl power: press play, however, and you’ll hear a dynamic reaction to exactly these kinds of songs, one explicitly intended to promote the wider and as inclusive as possible. definition of femininity by going well beyond the usual white, straight and cisgender heroines of the country.
“Round up the old perceptions,” Rae sings in “Modern Woman.” “Put them down.” It’s as close to politics as she ventures on Lighten; it mainly adopts an introspective approach instead of an observational approach. But there’s an underlying generosity to this music, made to explore a woman’s healing in a style that might make us feel a little better about ourselves.
Buy: Raw Trade