Delta Rae released their album The Light on March 20th. The Light marks the band’s first independent album, and the first installment of their two-part album project entitled The Light & The Dark (The Dark is slated to arrive in early 2021). With their departure from Big Machine in late 2019, The Light marks a new beginning for the band, as well as a critical opportunity for the band to reconsider their identity and redefine their purpose.
Over the summer the band launched a Kickstarter campaign with the goal of raising $30,000 for the production of The Light. They were taken by surprise when their campaign received $60k in support in one hour, and over the following months additional donations poured in, amounting to over $450,000 coming from more than 5,000 individual backers. The wave of donations was fueled partly by a coincidental circumstance: as Delta Rae was leaving Big Machine and going independent, Taylor Swift was embroiled in a feud with the label and their new owner over the rights to her songs. Eager Taylor Swift fans flocked to support the group in their new journey as an independent label. Irrespective of the details of the Swift feud, Delta Rae found themselves with a tremendous opportunity on their hands. A moment like this can reinvigorate a band and redefine its purpose, and if anything is evident from this new album, Delta Rae took full advantage of their watershed moment and put out their best record to date.
From the onset of the album, the sense of newfound independence is palpable. The record begins with a ceremonial intro: gentle bells and harmonies clear the air and create a sense of space for the band as they launch into their opening cut on the album, “Burning In Carolina.” The subject and title of the first track, with its references to North Carolina, feel deliberate. The song, and the album on the whole, takes the band back to their roots. Founded in North Carolina in 2009, Delta Rae has always maintained a conspicuous connection to the state that spawned their project. Songs like “Burning In Carolina” seem to channel their genesis as a band, taking them back to the original themes of their project and the original iconography.
On the album, Delta Rae answers many of the questions about their future and the direction of their sound by doubling down on their origins. In “The Wrong Ocean,” the band tells the story of the challenges they have faced as individuals (and as a band) to forge an identity for themselves—between the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific. Drawn to the music mecca of Los Angeles with West Coast influences ranging from Jackson Browne to Tom Petty, Delta Rae chronicle the difficulties of finding a sound and a home they can call their own. Ultimately, “The Wrong Ocean” concludes that their place is in “Carolina,” with a sprinkling of West Coast energy and influences along the way. The conclusion of “The Wrong Ocean” is ultimately more than a pleasant payoff at the close of the track; it is symbolic. The Light is packed with Gospel harmonies, country instrumentation, and elements of Southern soul. Overall, it feels as though Delta Rae has chosen to believe in the core Southern elements of their band, and they have made those elements central to their sound. For other examples of this aesthetic, you can listen to “Back To The Garden” or “Stronger than a Lion.”
While The Light is conspicuously Southern, it would be a mistake to view it as simply a Southern folk and Americana album. There are some interesting nuances that set it apart from other folk and country-influenced Americana. Specifically, Delta Rae possesses a theatric style on many of their records, a style they have maintained for years (think “Morning Comes” or “Run”). Take for example the lead vocals on “No One Will Miss Me.” On this song, there is tremendous energy from the lead singer, Eric Hölljes, which creates a sense of scale and heightens the moment for the listener as the harmonies fulfill a call-and-response role. You feel as if the song is being performed on a grand Broadway stage. Moreover, there are some interesting homages to other styles and decades across the album. For examples, one of their strongest songs on the album, “Take Me There,” prominently features the 80s gated-snare reverb sound on the drums—as well as consistent tom fills (à la Phil Collins). On “Danced Right Out of My Arms” the band strikes a different tone: the record feels like it could have been lifted out of the rock ‘n’ roll era of the late 1950s with Doo-wop harmonies and vocal responses—and even a touch of Phil Spector on the string section and percussion. Other songs dive deeper into the Southern realm. For example, “From One Woman to Another,” features bluesy Southern electric guitar riffs, and “Back to the Garden” has some lovely beds of Southern rock n’ roll piano and bass which call to mind The Allman Brothers.
Overall, Delta Rae’s twelve track album has variety and solid consistency in its tone. The Light feels like a cohesive work from beginning to end, as Delta Rea effectively match the pacing between their songs. “Burning In Carolina” and “Take Me There” are beautifully matched to open the album, and even political songs such as “Only In America” seem to fit well into the album’s narrative and keep it on course. I enjoyed The Light, and hopefully when the band gets back on the road I will see them on tour—and you should too.
Written by Brennan White