It’s not as easy as it seems to make a record that stands the test of time. Great songs and classic sounds play their part, as do brilliant performances. But the key lies in the obvious restraint such an undertaking demands in the moment and rewards only in hindsight. Timeless albums are only timeless because they don’t buy into the trend of the day, whether that’s auto-tuned vocals, programmed beats, quirky synths, or something else.
With a vocal tone that is both subtle and soothing, singer/songwriter Erin Rae moves within the milieu of contemporary artists who make classic albums that could’ve dropped any time within the last, say, 50 years. The lissome maturity to her artistry belies her age. Heck, even her fashion sense sidles her up alongside the ladies of Laurel Canyon. It all goes and flows together, seamlessly, on her latest effort, Putting on Airs.
On the album’s opener, “Grand Scheme,” Rae and company underline the languid acoustic guitar with a chunky bass and punctuate the piece with dramatic, Roy Orbison-recalling percussive flourishes. The framework leaves plenty of airspace for Rae’s voice to float around as it feels, ruminating on the existential idea of “how small we are in the grand scheme,” but also, “how great.” Indeed, the cinematically inclined song wouldn’t feel out of place in a film scene of an astronaut drifting through space, gazing contemplatively upon the tiny blue dot called Earth.
The chunky bass returns for “Love Like Before,” on which Rae considers her life choices up to now, weighing the pros against the cons of the moment. She considers packing it all in, before resigning herself to “give it another couple tries.” It’s not Roy Orbison who comes to mind here, though. But it is late ’70s-era pop/rock, thanks mainly to the muted drums that pulse things gently forward and the electric guitar accents that meander in and out of the sonic frame.
Elsewhere on Airs, there’s the striving for innocence of “Can’t Cut Loose,” the heartfelt meditation on mental illness of “Wild Blue Wind,” and the fraying of edges on “Like the First Time,” which boasts vocal effects so nuanced, only a great pair of headphones sneak them into your ears.
But one of the tracks garnering the most attention is “Bad Mind.” It’s a beauty, for sure, with a loping acoustic riff doing a lot of the melodic work, while Rae digs back into past anxieties to explore her own internalized shame around being gay. Even the most progressive among us, particularly those living in the South, have ideas heaped upon us by external forces mired in backwards thinking that leave us making bargains with God to somehow come out clean.
The themes Erin Rae unravels and weaves throughout Putting on Airs are as universal and, of course, timeless as the production that frames them, making it a record that could drop any time within the next 50 years, as well.