Erin Rae – The Hope & Ruin, Brighton – 4th September 2018

Photo by Jamie MacMillan

A little bit of Nashville came to Brighton this week in the shape of Erin Rae, the country-folk singer from Jackson, Tennessee. Having been a performer on stage since the age of five (with her parents, also musicians), she has successfully walked the line between indie-folk and Americana ever since her 2016 debut, Soon Enough, came out. Now, in town for a show in support of her superb recent record, Putting On Airs, she put on a display that delighted her adoring fans.

Support comes from Rae’s former roommate Kashena Sampson, setting up mere hours after landing from a transatlantic flight. Playing a set of sad country songs, her voice is at times reminiscent of the greats with a Dolly Parton-twang and a phenomenal full-bloodied roar in the style of Maria McKee. Tracks such as ‘It’s A Long Way Back’ and the upbeat ‘Greasy Spoon’ are like windows into another world, all performed in style by Sampson, who proves a likeable and engaging support for her good friend.

With her warm voice and gentle stage presence, Rae and her band gently wrap the room in the comforting blanket of openers ‘Grand Scheme’ and ‘Bad Mind’. Slow-paced, these songs wash over everybody in the room, always prevented from becoming too soporific by the excellent Jerry Bernhardt on guitar. The two prove to be perfect foils all night long, accompanied by Harry Bohay (bass) and Mikey Sorbello (drums) for the last week of the tour.

The interplay between the band is superb, ebbing and flowing all night long, as does the patter amongst them. Hugely versatile, they dip into different genres of Americana, similar in style to Cass McCombs on much of the softer rhythms rather than straight-down-the-line country. Yet, as good as the band are, tonight is all about Erin Rae and those songs that possess so much character and slowly reveal their hidden depths.

Rae’s voice is a weapon in itself, provoking catches of breath from the crowd at points in its clarity in the same way as Joni Mitchell. ‘Wild Blue Wind’ is a real highlight, the melody heart-melting and the harmonies from the band beautifully affecting. Playing a stripped-back cover of Jonathan Richman’s ‘You Must Ask The Heart’, (“A song that has bewitched me recentlyis how she describes it), she transforms something that is already gorgeous into something transcendent. The following ‘Anchor Me Down’ follows that, Rae’s voice filling the spaces left by her now-departed bandmates.

The rest of the night passes by in a blur, Rae’s dreamy voice pulling the crowd ever closer together on what is, surprisingly, her first show in Brighton. Laughing as she walks just six feet away from the stage before returning for an encore, blaming one of her bandmates (“We’d normally leave the room at least, but he’s broken his toe and he can’t walk far”), there follows stunning versions of ‘Rose Color’ and ‘The Real Thing’ before, this time for good, they disappear into the night.

Jamie MacMillan

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