Lighten Up (Cooking Vinyl)
GRACEFULLY DOES IT, the day in half light and the glass half full. It’s quite lovely, oh yes, but quite unexpected.
Erin Rae has leant towards the sombre, the bleak even, previously. Attractive and evocative, letting the space around the voice and spare instrumentation do as much work as the lyrics, those songs weren’t really country gothic, but they certainly did their best work in the shadows, if not late at night, and were made to be heard alone.
Lighten Up does indeed lighten up, sonically, tonally and emotionally. Without changing her singing dramatically – poised as much as languid, this is a voice that still eases its way through – Rae feels more inclined to see shards of hope these days, in a record made to be heard in company, to be shared.
Such an outcome is made possible by the plan she and producer Jonathan Wilson had to relocate Rae in a cosmic country world that is anything but repetitive. That means midtempo grooves from a rhythm section driving with the low impact of a barely humming electric car, glistening sounds of guitars and piano lightly burnished, quietly offered strings more Capitol studio’s elegant pop than RCA Studio B’s countrypolitan, and something of a light haze around the voice.
It’s all about balance. The limpid guitar towards the end of Drift Away and the drift away in Can't See Stars, the half-hidden electric piano within California Belongs To You and the way Rae’s voice feels cushioned in Lighten Up And Try, all feel as vital to the result as the glam keyboards of True Love's Face, the almost funky two-step bass in Modern Woman or the beach sunset feel of the singing in Undone.
Likewise, balance is found in the relationships – both with partners and with a broader, trickier world – which Rae explores. The end of things doesn’t have to mean a brutal crushing, being alone isn’t always lonely, and strength comes in more forms than muscle and sharp tongues. That, as much as the gracefulness with which she sings, puts Rae exactly where she wanted to be, somewhere between past and present.
Speaking of which, while they both headed from Nashville to Los Angeles for their albums and looked to the ‘70s for inspiration, rather than the West Coast rock tones that her friend, Margo Price, touched on in 2020’s That’s How Rumors Get Started , a better reference point for Rae is Pearl Charles’ desert trippy Magic Mirror . Like Charles’ record, Lighten Up feels more tethered to than rooted in its environment, capable of a shimmering presence that moves around you.
The ideas and the songs and the production work and work well, but the real success of Lighten Up is that while we might not have predicted this after hearing 2018 Putting On Airs, with this record now experienced, the path feels natural, maybe even inevitable.