Putting On Airs (Single Lock/Cooking Vinyl)
Graceful. That’s the word which comes to mind most often listening to Erin Rae’s songs. It’s a misleading word if you think that means without an edge to the stories of personal reconstruction, but if you get that grace can be under pressure as much as ethereal, it holds true.
From her well-mannered delivery and clear but not overly precise manner, to the easy tempi and tendency to languid overlays of pedal steel, mellotron or just-out-of-sight keyboards, with complementary underlays of held-back drums, there’s a sense of refinement about all her moves. That’s true even in the heavier chords and Clapton-esque guitar of Like The First Time which dances between taut and laidback.
It can sometimes mean that a song will not quite rise to meet you, held down by its politeness, especially in the moments when the hints turn into full displays of languid narco-country. And Putting On Airs falls short of complete satisfaction because of this, even in – or maybe, in truth, most clearly in – the long and mildly winding Anchor Me Down which never quite hits the marks that would make a 19 minute song compelling.
But more often, the appeal of Rae’s songs is in the way they inveigle their way in with the kind of nonchalance that disguises both their kernels of darkness (in one song she admits “I can’t own my own fears/ I don’t want to have a bad mind”) and their tenacious grip on your memory, bringing an almost amused ghostliness to Wild Blue Wing for example, and tantalising with the sparkle of the title track.
Rather than narco-country, in those best moments – and I’m thinking particularly of a song such as Bad Mind – Rae (whose full name is Erin Rae McKaskle) is closer to Judee Sill: elegantly adrift on a melody that existed in the quieter rooms of the early 1950s, but with the pull of a more focused, more demanding emotional environment.
Consider too, Can’t Cut Loose and Love Like Before.
There’s a hint of country and a splash of Hollywood hills singer/songwriter in the measured pace and floating melody of the former – not to mention the sad-eyed line “want to be free like we used to, but we can’t cut loose” - but the arrangement suggests (without actually going there) something more like a string backing with a spot just calling out for a harp.
In Love Like Before by contrast, the east Texas bassline and low work on the toms, offers a touch more loaded atmosphere encasing a gently propulsive rhythm, and the light tension between them brings something extra to the deceptively gossamer-like melody.