Erin Rae’s Putting On Airs had an affecting comfort about it. A country folk record that’s immediate and familiar. It’s the kind of album that’s a bit daunting in an artist’s catalog because it sets expectations high for a follow-up. For Lighten Up, Rae decamped to Topanga Canyon and enlisted producer Jonathan Wilson (Father John Misty, Mia Doi Todd) to push her sound towards a fuller expanse and dizzying vistas. The resulting record is immediately cushier than it’s predecessor, with the songs often feeling like the listener might sink into their surroundings and recline in the golden light for as long as Rae will let them. While the LP still grows in the same countryfied—folk soil, the album certainly makes no mind to remain stuck there. Wilson and Rae fit the album with strings that swell into ‘60s torchbearers, spotlight draped, tears trickling down the cheeks. Elsewhere a winking indie undertow reveals Wilson’s work with players like the aforementioned Misty or Conor Oberst, giving a few clues as to how he might have draped a Rilo Kiley LP if given the chance.
No matter the trimmings, though, it’s Erin’s songs that make the album feel comfortable on the speakers. Her confessional nature recalls Judee Sill at times, especially on the humble, yet soaring numbers like “Enemy,” or “Lighten Up and Try.” The album finds Rae opening her circle not just from a production standpoint, but with collaborations as well. The back and forth between Rae and Kevin Morby on “Can’t See Stars” recasts Nancy and Lee or Dolly and Porter for a new generation. The air between the two is comfortable atop a slight gallop and a distant purr of pedal steel give the song and amber hue. Meg Duffy from Hand Habits and UK songwriter Ny Oh also make appearances, rounding the record out with a cadre friends as she tackles themes of upheaval, self-soothing, distance, and personal reflection. With Lighten Up, Erin Rae has created a polished, personal album that’s both a shoulder to lean on and a friend in the passenger seat, chasing the sunset. If Putting On Airs left high expectations for a follow-up, Lighten Up pushes the bar ever higher.
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