Album Review

Finding a Folk Footing

Erin Rae - Putting on Airs

Erin Rae’s Putting on Airs is about finding your footing in a chaotic world. Throughout the record, we follow Rae as she reflects on her past and present, and looks hopefully toward the future. Although the album’s 12 tracks can be riddled with anxiety, Rae’s honesty gives way to unmistakable clarity and peace.

The Nashville singer-songwriter’s debut LP Soon Enough, released in 2015 under the name Erin Rae and the Meanwhiles, had two feet firmly planted in traditional folk and country sounds. On Putting on Airs, Rae strikes a balance between standard folk and country tunes and songs that play with these genres to make textured sonic expressions. 

“Can’t Cut Loose” and “June Bug” are easygoing folk tracks. Album opener “Grand Scheme” is equally breezy but there’s a psychedelic undertow that drags the track into much hazier territories. The standout song “Like the First Time” is quick and gritty pop-rock that bounces with unease, and another highlight, “Love Like Before,” has a warm, upbeat groove that’s full of fun — you can even hear Rae giggle.

Whatever style Rae’s accompanying instrumentation is in, her dulcet voice adapts and illuminates the lyrics’ emotions. Rae stretches her words on “Grand Scheme” as if she is reaching out to grab hold of what she wants in life. On “Mississippi Queen,” a smoky folk track,Rae asks,“don’t you wish you were still green, like when you could get high off a little hit?” She moves into a higher range when she sings “hit,” blissfully, and cleverly, sailing off into oblivion.

“Bad Mind” is a masterpiece. Here Rae recounts the homophobia she witnessed growing up and how, filled with worry, she denied her own sexuality — “I don’t want to have a bad mind,” she repeats. Yet the heaviness of Rae’s lyrics is offset by the gentleness of the simple instrumentation — a guitar is quietly strummed and drums are faintly brushed. Together with the softness of Rae’s voice, the track feels like a long exhale. As she thinks back to a youthful crush and all the things that were never said or done, she sings what feels like the crux of the record: “I never had the courage to tell you until now.”

The honesty of Putting on Airs is so sincere that often times it sounds like Rae is admitting her feelings for the first time, startled by her own candidness. But despite its intimacy, Putting on Airs is not a heavy record. Rae, in complete control of her craft, is being her authentic self, and we feel the lightness that comes with that.