Erin Rae makes quiet music for the mind swept into a torrent. It'd be easy to call her sound escapist, as her gentle voice offers a balm over softly strummed guitar and brushed percussion. But Rae also unearths uneasy revelations with hard wisdom, in particular in Putting On Airs, her new album.
"Bad Mind" is something of a thematic centerpiece of the record, which is getting a release via John Paul White's label Single Lock. Throughout the song, the Nashville-based singer-songwriter takes a mirror to her past to make sense of who she is now.
"My aunt has a daughter the same age as me," Erin Rae told NPR Music's Ann Powers in a recent episode of World Cafe. "She's four months older than me. We grew up best friends, we pretended to be twins. In '96, I think, the Alabama court ruled my aunt as unfit to be a mother because she was gay. That was a court battle that went on for several years — it went onto the Alabama supreme court. My cousin was not able to live with her mom and every other weekend she was allowed to go over there only if my aunt's partner left. I saw how heartbreaking that was for the entire family."
Erin Rae internalized this story for years, not only fearful for family but herself as she became aware of her sexuality.
"If you're a girl in the South in the '90s you're supposed to be getting crushes on boys," she continued. "I was so fearful of being different. ... I spent most of teen and pre-teen years trying not to appear gay, whatever that means. Still even now it's been hard to peel back the layers."
True introspection not only gives us a window into an artist but a ledge on which to prop our elbows and take in the scene's full meaning. With a lilting melody that conveys something like peace but twirls the anxiety of identity with bittersweet imagery ("Remember when you tried to hold my hand / And I acted like I thought you were playing / But I knew just what you were saying / Doing that"), "Bad Mind" opens our view not just of Rae's subtle craft but the empathy she offers to those who still need to own their feelings and their fears.
Putting On Airs comes out June 8 via Single Lock Records.