The cover of Erin Rae’s new album is a painting by Nashville artist Harry Underwood, depicting a barroom scene – in it a woman puts a song on the jukebox, a man sits at the bar and the space between them is both small and vast at the same time. The painting, and the songs contained within, capture that sense of alienation and sadness which exist in everyday moments. ‘Putting on Airs’ is an album of breathtaking beauty, an intimate impression of American life.
In the opening song Grand Scheme Erin sings, How small we are in the grand scheme; how great, a line which feels like a perfection summation of human existence. What she understands is that even the most seemingly insignificant person is important, just like every song has meaning if we care to listen.
The music on the album is a mixture of folk, country and indie influences which you could call Americana if you wish but she doesn’t have the twangy style of some of her Nashville contemporaries. On the album’s title track she creates a daydreamy country waltz which belongs in the clouds rather than the honky tonk. She’s had enough of putting on airs and wants to be herself, to embrace the truth without pretence.
For the first few listens of the album I kept hearing the lyrics to ‘Bad Mind’ as ‘bad month’, which was maybe just my own anxious mind projecting. When I discovered Erin wrote this song about her own personal history and her upbringing in the rural south suddenly I understood it so much more. It’s not about hoping for a better month, it’s a powerful prayer of self acceptance and courage. Like everything on this record she lets the moment of revelation sneak up on you and take your breath away.
The Joni Mitchell influence haunts Can’t Cut Loose, a song of nostalgic longing for the past. You can’t free yourself from who you are. Erin has spoken of how this is a song about addiction, and those vicious circles we can all find ourselves in, whether it be love or a drug.
June Bug has a sweet folky feel to the music, the soundtrack to a summer evening watching the fireflies die. The rose-tinted, flower drenched video is a work of art in itself. Mississippi Queen echoes Bobbie Gentry in its slowly intoxicating and languid style. A song of experience, wishing for simpler, greener times.
The small details of her songwriting are so striking, she brings the characters to life right down to the seams of their clothes, like on Wild Blue Wind – a lovely song about restlessness, freedom and trying to make it.
Airy closer Pretend is a moment of utter vocal perfection. She contemplates who she once pretended to be when in a doomed relationship On and on the record spins, the songs we used to sing back then. Through the course of the song and the album, she finds the bravery and courage to finally sing about who she really is.
On first play you may find some of the songs seem too slow or sad but with repeated listening a truly enchanting album will reveal itself. Shut your eyes and go floating with the exquisite Erin Rae, you won’t regret a minute spent with ‘Putting on Airs’.