Raised in Jackson Tennessee Erin Rae has recently been Nashville’s popular choice for backing vocals and harmony work working with the likes of Margo Price and Andrew Combs. Her debut album Soon Enough saw her take the decision to step out from behind other artists and take centre stage and tonight she was at the Green Note to promote her forthcoming album Putting On Airs while playing some songs from her acclaimed debut. Rae has been described as Nashville’s best-kept secret but based on what I saw and heard tonight, she will not remain a secret for long.
In a packed intimate venue, Rae took to the stage and from the very first song, Light, her voice was at once mesmerising, angelic and ethereal. It is hard to say if she sounds like anyone specific and the closest I could come was like a cross between Joni Mitchell and Tift Merritt. With stripped back simple melodies, Rae played acoustic guitar and was ably accompanied by Dom Billet and Jerry Bernhardt who created a textured sound, supporting rather than detracting from her gentle and fragile vocals. This worked very well as it allowed Rae’s voice to float above the music and to weave in and out of it without any loss to the clarity of the vocals, allowing us to appreciate Rae’s lyrics. She introduced each number with a brief explanation about the song or what inspired it and was very engaging in between the music.
Minolta was hypnotic and you could tell it was not just you feeling this by the silence of the attentive crowd. This was followed by Playing Old Games, which instantly felt like a song you knew, slipping straight into your mind like an old 60’s tune you know as soon as you hear it. Next was Pretty Thing with Rae telling the audience that she had been obsessed by the Dust Bowl as an eight year old and that this had inspired this song about how you can find beauty in any bleakness. Futile Attempts was a song for her dad that had an almost Hawaiian feel to it.
We were then treated to some tracks from the forthcoming album and The Real Thing was a treat. A song about how experience shapes you into what you become this was as close to Joni Mitchell that Rae came all evening in vocal style, lyrics and musicality. Love Like Before, Putting On Airs and Wild Blue Wind also stood out amongst the new songs and showed a maturing songwriter pushing her sound and writing and all the while stretching herself. There was a beautiful rendition of Monticello, a song which possibly best encompasses Rae’s sound that is at times a bit country, a bit 70’s folk but always a soothing balm. After Clean Slate, the last song of the set, there were enthusiastic calls for an encore and she duly obliged, playing a slowed down version of a new song, Like The First Time. She then finished with “the slowest possible jam” of Rose Color, with the two other band members standing at the mike and providing harmony and backing vocals for Rae, which is a role reversal Rae will have to get used to as she is unlikely to have to return to backing duties anytime soon.
Before the final song, Rae had made a point of thanking everyone involved in the night and told us how she, “always looked forward to playing here as it has been a real treat.” Just as it was for all of us.