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.com – http://raeraemusic.bandcamp.com/album/hard-times-and-alcohol
Reverbnation.com – http://www.reverbnation.com/raeraeqotv