Great songs by such luminaries as Elton John and Fleetwood Mac in the 70s and Squeeze and XTC in the 80s, took the music around them and refined it into a polished work of studio perfection. With hooks big enough to hang the moon on and wry lyrics that hinted at bigger things without mired in the ponderous, these musicians proved you could be popular and create music for the ages.
Seymour Stein knows a thing or two about this. As the cultural chaos of punks ripped through the fabric of music Stein saw pop beauty by The Ramones , Talking Heads and the Pretenders and others who he signed as co-founder of Sire Records.
Stein signed the six-piece band from North Carolina Delta Rae after a mutual friend set them up for an acoustic performance at his office. He must have been impressed as he called more people into his office to hear the band play for 45 minute audition.
Like the other bands Stein has signed, Delta Rae resonates the trends around them, in this case Americana, and amke it appealing to a larger ausince that might wince at a claw-hammer style banjo.
On “Holding On To Good” acoustic guitar and piano burst “Carry The Fire” open with such assurance it’s surprising this is a debut album. Brittany Holljes is a woman who can belt out or sing delicately as she does here with harmonies in response “In the morning…” along with her like a tide rolling in an back out. In this opening the bar is set high. “Is There Anyone Out There” follows with Brittany’s brother Ian Hölljes handling vocals (half the band are siblings with brother Eric Hölljes on vocals, guitar, piano and keys.) Like the former this song also mixes bombast with lovely hushed melody.
“Morning Comes” has a gospel soul as an acapella start and hand clap accompaniment give Eric Holljes lot of room to soar. Though nowhere near as nimble the style brings to mind Freddy Mercury and the sound of the song overall makes me think the band has been had Queen’s greatest hits on heavy play for some time.
Gospel is also the influence in my favorite track “Bottom of the River.” I like things dark and gritty and, even though the production is crisp, there’s a Southern Gothic quality in the song that is brought out in the video for the song. Big vocals of of Brittany and the band and percussion is a central instrument of the number that is accentuated in the a mid-song interlude. The darkness is also reflected in “Fire” with it’s controlled cacophony of sound and forgoing the pop elements momentarily to drive toward pure passion.
The infusion of pop in Americana is not new. Delta Rae join their contemporaries The Civil Wars, Mumford and Sons, the Avett Brothers in bringing a folk, country and soul hybrid to the masses. Carry the Fire joins there ranks as a great example of how pop music can also be excellently crafted and and not seemingly focused on hits. I applaud Delta Rae for this fine first release and for bringing a larger audience into the Americana fold.
Here’s to success without compromise.