We are just past the “half-way” point of 2018, and there’s no shortage of trendy “here’s what you may have missed” listicles - otherwise known as clever ways to cover one’s (see: a publication’s) ass in missing “hidden gems” that may have never shown up in the form of an email press release, etc. This approach is one of the more vainglorious aspects of online writing, as if the reader is incapable for deciding for themselves, and the Spotify algorithms haven’t figured them out better than a critic from Publication X.
Media gazing aside - as I contemplate a serviceable lede for this particular Erin Rae write-up - I realize that despite the mild mid-year listicle diatribe you may or may not have just skimmed over, I tend to lean in on Album of the Year appeals with near hypocritical levels of regularity. There was Freedom by Amen Dunes, Songs of Praise by Shame, Caroline Rose, The Weather Station, you get the picture.
Perhaps that approach is my attempt at writing clickbait, of which I’m notoriously bad at (just ask some former editors), or maybe, just maybe - on special occasions - it’s warranted. For my own vanity, I’ll go with the latter.
And as you might have gleaned from this generally offbeat lede, I firmly believe Erin Rae’s Putting On Airs is worthy of yet another Album of the Year appeal.
For all the rambling I’ve indulged in defense of these supremely deserving albums throughout the year, I’ve yet to find a local record that irrevocably moved me to a similar fashion. That is, until Putting On Airs (as if you didn’t see that coming). Seriously, though. Erin Rae has long been a staple of the ever modifying Americana landscape in Nashville, but Putting On Airs all but solidifies her presence.
That’s not to say Erin Rae’s presence was ever in question - no one’s “standing” is ever is peril as long as it’s approached in earnest - it was simply undefined. But now, leading up to and following the release of Putting On Airs, Erin Rae is at the forefront of the Americana sound. Plus, it’s a pretty cool flex to bring out your parents to introduce songs off the record during the release show. I can speak with great certainty that I’ve never seen that before.
Anyway, let’s get back to the music. Consider the string arrangements on Putting On Airs, when translated into a live setting (such as her album release “residency” at The Basement), evocative and near immediate images of Lawrence Welk and the yearning for musical yesteryears appear.
Sure, Lawrence Welk was kind of corny (or so I assume), but he also took champagne music from the back corners of cabarets and placed them in a primetime setting. Fast forward to the present day, and Erin Rae is thrusting an impressionistic take on champagne music into the limelight of Americana. That’s no small feat.
Whether or not Erin Rae and her recording cohorts set out to build a champagne glimmer to Putting On Airs is undetermined, but in doing so, they’ve further pressed the bounds of Americana music. That’s difficult to do as anybody, but, considering the undeniable beauty of Erin Rae’s melodic and lyrical abilities, it’s safe to assume it was smoother sailing than it would be for most.
Speaking to Erin Rae’s nearly immaculate tonality, it lends itself to the further musical variety that crops up throughout her live sets and her music. Consider the first night of her release residency - Erin Rae brought everyone from Station Wagon’s Pete Lindbergh, the great Kelsey Waldon, our friends Molly Parden, Coco Reilly, and Kashena Sampson - a lineup of equally unique artists in Nashville, all of whom serve the greater good of further expanding the “Nashville Sound.” Whether or not Erin Rae is the convergence point is indeterminate, but the Putting On Airs release residency serves as an exemplary opening argument.
Then there’s her actual band of cohorts, all of whom seem more than capable of subjugating any given set, should they find the proclivity, but instead sustain the great good of the songs off the record, the end product being some truly mellifluous. There’s no doubt Erin Rae had more than her fair share of choice when it came to accompanists, and in seeing the songs fully realized in person, the ones she chose are truly sublime.
While there’s certainly been quite a bit of navel gazing with regard to Putting On Airs and the various parties involved, everything comes back to Erin Rae. From the obvious consciousness of Nashville’s musical community, to her own reverence toward her parents and music in general, Erin Rae is an artist of true depth. She possesses a magnificent ability to not only emit, but also imbue a dulcetness that most (but not all) of Americana has left at the altar of outlaw country and the like. Whether that becomes fewer and further between in Nashville remains to be seen, but there’s great certainty in my mind that Erin Rae will be the thruline either way.