Delta Rae – Carry The Fire
2012, Sire Records
2012, Sire Records
After five years of writing and nearly 2,700 reviews, it is increasingly difficult to be absolutely bowled over by a new band. While no one who writes like this wants to admit it, there is a certain cynicism that sets in after a while. A reviewer may check out as many as 20 releases in a week with a goal of perhaps covering 4-5, and there is a definite amount of musical homogeneity that occurs in the various branches of popular music. It is the reason that radio programmers often claim they can tell a hit in the first 10-15 seconds of a song. If there is no hook in that amount of time that catches the ear, the listener either tunes out or changes the channel.
Similarly, if an album is too like other acts, or just doesn’t have something special to it, it’s easy to write it off. It’s the thing that we reviewers must guard against. Luckily, none of these concerns come into play with Delta Rae’s Carry The Fire, which is by far the most wonderfully vibrant and compelling release of 2012 to date. The Durham, North Carolina sextet is comprised of siblings Ian (vocals/guitar); Eric (vocals/guitar/piano/keys); and Brittany Hölljes (vocals), along with Elizabeth Hopkins (vocals); Mike McKee (percussion) and Grant Emerson (bass guitar). Discovered by legendary record exec Seymour Stein, Delta Rae is living proof that once in a while, the music industry actually gets it right.
Carry The Fire launches with “Holding On To The Good”, a wonderfully buoyant piece of orchestrated folk/pop. The complex vocal and instrumental infrastructure of the song is challenging, laced with gorgeous harmonies and a dynamic, supple lead vocal by Brittany Hölljes. “Is There Anyone Out There” is full of a contemplative melancholy and a Springsteen-esque observance of a world that is worse off than when Bruce wrote Born To Run. Delta Rae paints the picture of a world that has lost its identity, from the perspective on of the last bastions to carry on the old ways. The provocative chorus is all about not giving up, but displays a waning hope that things can actually turn around. “Morning Comes” explores the feelings about seeing your home town fall into darker times. Hope abounds here in more plentiful portions here, and there’s a certain bleak beauty in this unresolved resolution.
“If I Loved You” is a magical moment in songwriting; a well-written heartbreaker. Brittany Hölljes channels a bit of Sheryl Crow here, as our protagonist waxes poetic on what she would do if she loved a suitor in the same way he loves her. The song is wistful; she wishes she could return what he feels. It’s a wow moment free of the cliché and entendres that so often accompany such ideas in popular music forms. “Bottom Of The River” is a bluesy gospel-inspired number that builds wonderfully dark bits of tension into beautiful resolutions. Brittany Hölljes shines in what most be the most dynamic and powerful vocal performance on the album.
“Country House” is a lovely, contemplative exploration of the pure emotions of missing someone. There’s an almost academic approach to the song at first, but this slow burn fires into full inferno in the emotionally charged chorus. The vocal and instrumental tableau here is nothing short of gorgeous. “Surrounded” is adult orchestral pop that is wonderfully layered and complex. There is a dynamic and tension-filled beauty here that is impossible to ignore. “Dance In The Graveyards” is another moment of magic, as Delta Rae implores listeners to make the most of every moment, both here and in the hereafter. It’s a wonderfully vibrant pop tune brocaded with orchestra and amazingly resilient vocal triads. This is an absolute WOW moment.
But Delta Rae is not done. Just when you think they’ve hit their heights they push beyond with “Fire”. This intense and driven number is absolutely elemental in emotion and feel. Think Sometymes Why meets Nine Inch Nails (for intensity) and you’ll be in the ballpark. Brittany Hölljes does things with her voice here that don’t seem humanly possible as she conveys anger and hurt in pure aesthetic forms. The moment where she breaks is chilling and drives through you like a spike.
Delta Rae tones it down a bit with a mea culpa for human imperfection entitled “Forgive The Children We Once Were”. The song is beautiful, heartfelt and sweet in its honesty as it tries to move on the imperfections and thoughtlessness of youth. “Unlike Any Other” is a stripped down and heartfelt and emotionally raw. Subtle vocal harmonies set the tableau, but Brittany Hölljes’ voice and the piano are used to maximum effect to convey musical secrets in a beautiful and powerful performance.
And on the other side of darkness there is always light. That seems to be the deep seated message behind closing out the album with “Hey, Hey, Hey”, a sweet and light-hearted love song. The lead vocal and harmonies mix in gorgeous measure, and the song has a nice, light touch. This is a feel good time that lets you walk away even after story filled with real life pain with a bounce in your step and hope in your heart.
That’s the magic of Delta Rae. There is a deep understanding of real world pain and suffering in their music, and yet there is always hope and always just a bit of magic around the corner waiting to happen. The musical intensity of the group is spine tingling at times; they can rock you sleep or blast you through the wall without ever losing a sense of who they are musically. Carry The Fire they do. It won’t be surprising to see Delta Rae and Carry The Fire regularly mentioned as contenders for next year’s GRAMMY Awards. In any case, Carry The Fire is certainly a Wildy’s World Certified Desert Island Disc. This one is a classic.
Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)Learn more about Delta Rae at www.deltarae.com, www.facebook.com/deltarae, or www.myspace.com/deltaraemusic.