Erin Rae is in no hurry. The child of folk-singing parents from Jackson, Tenn., the singer-songwriter (full name Erin Rae McKaskle) kept sophomore LP “Putting on Airs” (out Friday) in her pocket for a while before signing to Single Lock Records. Now the album is ready for the world, and maybe the world’s ready for her. The sincere porch-swing country of her previous album with her band the Meanwhiles, “Soon Enough,” made a splash in her home base of Nashville. For “Putting on Airs,” she’s on her own, and this album reaches higher and wider, wanting more.
To “put on airs” implies pretentiousness, but this album offers a 12-song slice of unpretentious, lovely Americana. Her songs didn’t vie for my attention or seize it; instead, I felt like I was settling into their embrace, unrushed. My heart rate slowed.
Erin Rae’s lyrics are wistful and sometimes personal. Discussing the warm, swaying “Bad Mind” on NPR’s “World Cafe Nashville” program, the singer said the song was prompted by the anxiety and fear she had about her own sexuality in the shadow of a court decision that ruled her gay aunt an “unfit” mother. “ ‘Bad Mind’ is really about the need to heal, to peel back the layers and process it all, so that I can allow my true feelings to come to the surface,” she said.
Some layers of her former work are absent from this album; lyrically and musically, “Putting on Airs” is translucent. The album was co-produced by Dan Knobler and Jerry Bernhardt, recorded in the depths of winter at the Refuge, a former Franciscan religious retreat in Appleton, Wis. But no matter where or when you’re listening, a hazy summer of the mind arises from the cozy instrumentation and Erin Rae’s thoughtful voice, which at times recalls Joni Mitchell and Gillian Welch.
The songs of “Putting On Airs” amble and flow as if carried along by the currents of a lazy river. On album opener “Grand Scheme” and the title track, Dominic Billett’s reverberating drums and Bernhardt’s swirling keyboards echo the lush walls of sound of 1960s Brill Building pop. “Anchor Me Down” glows like a persistent memory, with chiming piano and an undulating synthesizer hovering in the background. But Erin Rae defines the core of each song, and if these songs were to be heard with only her voice and guitar, no magic would be lost.Zoë Madonna can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @knitandlisten.