Erin Rae

REVIEW: Erin Rae “Lighten Up”


Erin Rae — Lighten Up

One of the greatest sins of radio-friendly country music is its utter dispensability – you could listen to an entire album by any number of the top-selling (and mostly white male) performers and not have it make even the slightest dent in your memory. That’s why the latest record from Erin Rae is such a treat – each song on Lighten Up feels different from the rest. Rae has made a concerted effort to vary her sound on every track, causing each moment to carve a groove in your psyche.

Early on in the process of writing and recording for Lighten Up, Rae decided to open up her sound, which led to recruiting Jonathan Wilson to produce the album. That goal is realized from the very first track, “Candy and Curry,” with Rae’s languid vocals supplemented with strings, keys and an analogue drum machine while she sings of pandemic-induced (and not entirely unwelcome) alone-ness – “I’m makin’/Candy and curry and/A friend in the mirror.” That sense of relief that can come from isolation continues into “Can’t See Stars,” a pedal steel and banjo tune that finds the singer (along with guest Kevin Morby) longing for quiet – “A thousand other voices/But among the murmuration found/I could not hear my own.”

The arrangements and musical choices on Lighten Up are varied and often deep, but they never threaten to overwhelm the songs. The bouncy organ and Wurlitzer lines on “True Love’s Face” complement Rae’s cautiously optimistic search for love – “I hope I recognize the signs/I hope I know my lines.” And the insistent rhythm to lead single “Modern Woman” backstops the singer’s assertion that strong women are most definitely NOT a new phenomenon – “Round up the old perceptions/Lay them on down/They’re only tellin’ stories and they’re/Getting in the way.”

Lighten Up is largely about personal growth found in the ruins of whatever may have happened over the past two years, but there’s space for mourning what was lost, too. “California Belongs to You” deals with the post-parting divvying up of emotional territory – “But because I would not be true/Gotta find other things to do.” It’s all about the scars that are revealed as we leave someone – and the memories of them – in the rearview. “Gonna Be Strange,” featuring Rae’s prettiest vocals on the record, is a “break-up/looking forward” song of sorts, where exciting new choices are balanced against the loss they bring – “Wonder/When I’m singin’/Will it make a sound?If you’re not out there for me/To sing to?” And the bittersweetness found across the album is best captured in “Mind/Heart.” Featuring Meg Duffy (Hand Habits) on guitar, the song asks the most basic of questions regarding the depth and purpose of a relationship – “How to be sure/The mind is f@cked/And the heart is pure.” Is this good or bad for me? Rae may not give up the answer, but it’s damn gorgeous listening to her ask the question.

Song I Can’t Wait to Hear Live: “Mind/Heart” – Sweet, meditative and slightly adrift. Concert halls across America will be otherwise silent when she pulls this one out.


Lighten Up was produced and mixed by Jonathan Wilson, engineered by Grant Milliken and mastered by John Baldwin. All songs were written by Erin Rae, with co-writing credit going to Andrew Combs on “Lighten Up & Try.” Additional musicians on the record include Wilson (drums, percussion, guitars, lap steel, banjo, Wurlitzer, Mellotron, harmonium, harpsichord, backing vocals), Milliken (vibraphone), Drew Erickson (piano, organ, Solina, harpsichord, clavinet, vox organ, Wurlitzer, synths, string arrangements), Jake Blanton (bass), Spencer Cullum (pedal steel), Kevin Morby (vocals), Meg Duffy (electric guitar), Ny Oh (backing vocals), Gus Seyffert (bowed bass), Andrew Bulbrook and Wynton Grant (violin), Zach Dellinger (viola) and Jacob Braun (cello).

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