Review Summary: Good but not great, Delta Rae plays it too safe to really draw the attention its members' abilities are primed to entice.
The appeal of blues, folk and other Americana music is how personal it is. Its lyrical storytelling and modest, yet raw instrumentation enables for a full, sensual experience to appreciate the artistry that provides it. Thus, there in lies the allure of six-piece Delta Rae and its bare vocal harmonies within folk rock melodies, or at least it did. On the Durham, North Carolina, natives’ sophomore release, After It All
, the group’s greatest strength is diluted and traded for what obviously is an attempt to reach a greater audience.
Not that such a move is necessarily a strategy we should sneer at. The Bohemian lifestyle is not as glamorous as movies like Rent
portray; artists need to eat, after all. But for those who are familiar and fond of 2012’s Carry the Fire
, the earnestness in tracks like “If I Loved You” and “Bottom of the River” and are expecting more The Civil Wars than The Band Perry will probably be a little disappointed here.
From the get-go, intimacy is damned. The generic piano arpeggios in “Anthem” give way to garish orchestral force. On the subsequent “Run,” guitar is eschewed for grand strings, and the bombast of horns is likewise preferred in “Outlaws.” With the exception of “I Will Never Die,” which is classic Delta Rae, the subtleties of Ian Holljes’ guitar and Grant Emerson’s bass and the outfit’s overall musicianship are often toned down throughout for more emphasis on the group’s vocal harmonies, as well as the alternated lead vocals of Holljes’ siblings, Eric and Brittany, and for the superlative voice of the troupe in Elizabeth Hopkins.
The track that epitomizes and suffers the most from major label fine-tuning and tampering is “Chasing Twisters,” which can be summarized as the radio edit of the Spaghetti Western-inspired original found on the eponymous EP. The cantering guitar and percussion rhythms in the windup verses are nearly stripped completely for the sheen and slickness of the keyboard. This production aesthetic is stylistically dissonant with and diminishes the excellent and gritty Wild West-themed lyrics: I was born with lightning in my heels/sewed a spur onto my ankle/bitter horse under the steel/And I lost hope when I was still young/had an angel on my shoulder/but the Devil always won
. The EP version maturely runs just under five minutes, while After It All
’s take is truncated to seconds less than three and a half, as it cuts out a chorus and meshes the bridge and coda of the first for a streamlined ending. Such songwriting is a mistake, given the rousing refrain is the payoff for the prolonged buildup and shouldn’t be hidden under a bushel, especially when the stellar Hopkins punctuates it. Although “Chasing Twisters” on the record remains a highlight, in large part due to her inflections, it’s not what it could
have been, or more accurately, what it has
been, and that’s a shame.
Frustrations like these aside, a neutered Delta Rae is still
an enjoyable Delta Rae. There’s no denying the sextet is talented even when on cruise control. Lead single “Scared” is a sultry, Gavin DeGraw-type number that blooms to cast a gothic gospel spell before hauntingly fading. It’s difficult not to succumb to the foot-stomping exuberance of up-tempo rocker “Bethlehem Steel.” “Dead End Road” and “Cold Day in Heaven” both certainly have mainstream country crossover potential and showcases the knack the group has vocal harmonies. Additionally, the infectious “My Whole Life Long” is right in the wheelhouse of country radio giants Lady Antebellum. Undoubtedly, Delta Rae is consistent in quality on After It All
Be it as it is, there really was no need to tweak the group’s sound to channel the pop rock of Abba or to imitate the likes of acts like Thompson Square to ensnare the masses. The band was already accessible, yet fulfilling like the above-mentioned The Civil Wars or ZZ Ward. On the contrary, After It All
amounts to mere titillation -- easy on the ears but lacking replay value outside a few listens. It should leave newcomer and longtime fans alike with a thirst for more that presumably only a live Delta Rae performance could slake.
"Cold Day in Heaven"
"I Will Never Die"