May 032012
 

There’s a fine line between country and cliche.

For every Dixie Chicks or Kelly Willis, there’s a glossier and less-talented SheDaisy or Shania Twain waiting to take center stage.

Rae Rae, a former California girl whose musical travels led her cross-country to Detoit, straddles the line between artistic and commercial country, often with mixed results.

With a voice that’s more Faith Hill than Marianne Faithful, Rae Rae fights to be taken seriously on some of the best tracks off her debut, Hard Times and Alcohol. She’s a little too chipper at times on the title track, sounding more like the life of the party than an average working-class woman stressing over her job and throwing back highballs at the bar.

“Drunk Drunk” takes the promise of “Hard Times” and strikes just the right note between exuberance and desperation. It’s not nearly as down and dirty as you might expect (or hope) especially from an album whose title sounds like a call to arms to line up at the bar. And if there’s a major criticism, it’s just that – Rae Rae keeps things light and buoyant at times when you want and need her to let all the pain and fear and anxiety take root in her voice in order to crawl under your skin.

We’re mired in the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. Gas is eclipsing $4 a gallon. Unemployment is rampant. People are frustrated and angry, and often during these times, they fill the small bars and neighborhood pubs, seeking solace and a reprieve. I wanted Rae Rae’s album to reflect that sense of now more, to give voice to the angst troubling the people.

This wouldn’t be a country album without a few plaintive ballads. “Mama Hold On” is perfunctory, a too-standard take on the ‘don’t give up’ proclamation that needs something more. “We’re Not Finished Yet” is fluffy but tailor-made for Natalie Maine’s voice. Then comes “93 in November,” and everything clicks. Rae Rae’s delivery tugs appropriately on your heart. “Love and Hate” is another mid-tempo ballad that showcases her voice and songwriting chops. “If We Become Lovers” continues the trend of really good song, followed by mediocre song, followed by really good song.

Thankfully, immediately after the too-pop confection of “Nice Girls,” Rae Rae breaks out her Motown swagger for the bluesy, achingly beautiful “I’d Rather Die,” which sounds like a lost Shelby Lynne track. And she finishes the album with the vintage-sounding “Blind Love.”

So, the final verdict? There’s enough here to recommend Hard Times and Alcohol to fans of female country singers. Though uneven, and marked by too many forgettable tracks, the songs that stick are worth revisiting, maybe on an edited playlist where you can excise the filler and focus instead on the prime cuts.

Bandcamp.comhttp://raeraemusic.bandcamp.com/album/hard-times-and-alcohol

Reverbnation.comhttp://www.reverbnation.com/raeraeqotv

Buy the Albumhttp://www.amazon.com/Hard-Times-and-Alcohol/dp/B005JQPVH2/ref=sr_1_1?s=music&ie=UTF8&qid=1335364297&sr=1-1

John Allman

In 1975, my parents made a fateful decision, the first of many, that set me upon my chosen path. They took me with them to see "Jaws." In the bathroom, after the movie ended, my Dad said he heard a young voice saying over and over, "Smile you son of a bitch." He opened the stall door to find his 5-year-old son gleefully blasting the bowl with urine the way Roy Scheider blew up the air tank in the shark's mouth. Two years later, they took me with them to see the King, Elvis Presley, mere months before his unfortunate death. Elvis wasn't on his A game as he stumbled through a two-night, sold-out stand at the old Charlotte Colosseum. But we had floor seats, row 22, and my mother was shrieking like a schoolgirl. Women everywhere in the arena were freaking out. I just remember thinking, why is the big man in the jumpsuit cussing so much on stage? That's right - Jaws and Fat Elvis, my earliest memories of film and music, two defining moments in my young life. Today, thankfully, I have evolved from those humble beginnings to have an appreciation for most cinematic and musical genres. But my heart remains rooted in those formative years. I still love horror more than any other type of movie, and I choose to remember Elvis from his Sun Records days, long before the white jumpsuit, when he was full of swagger and fire, helping build a label defined by the all-time greats.

  3 Responses to “Rae Rae – Hard Times and Alcohol”

  1. She’s good enough for fans of female country singers, but not if your standards are any higher, if you like to hear country from men? Yall get too lazy with your comparisons sometimes. Is the only thing worth remarking on her sex?

    It’s like when they only compare black quarterbacks to each other. Just go with the easiest most obvious reference point and avoid putting any thought into what the product your analyzing is actually doing.

    I mean, you did that with the economic issue, I’m just beefing about the sexuality thing. Which a serious issue for women in art, in country, on this website, on CMT, and in general life.

    • K.H.,

      Thank you for your comment. I meant no offense, whatsoever. If you were to look at my CD collection, or even my Spotify playlists, the majority of artists I gravitate to are female and most either stick firmly in the Americana, electronica or rock genres. That said, I wrote that line, and much of the review, with the thought of someone like me – who prefers a female singer-songwriter – reading it.

      And, just to further clarify, when I say ‘female country singer,’ I am not remarking on appearance, sex-appeal, etc. That stuff really doesn’t matter to me. It really comes down to the voice and the lyrics and the individual songs.

      But, like I said, I appreciate your feedback and your position. I just wanted you to know why I chose the words I did and the approach I took.

  2. cool, I understand. Thanks for responding. Y’all keep trying to stretch this scene out, though; don’t let it get narrow enough to be predictable.

    Love,
    K.H.

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