Acclaimed singer-songwriter Erin Rae paved her own way into the music scene with years of work and determination. After completing just one semester of college, Rae realized she needed to chase her dreams. She dropped out and threw herself into playing open mics and honing her craft in Nashville among fellow musicians and writers.
She took a risk, and it paid off. In 2015, Rae hit the ground running with the release of her debut album, Soon Enough, recorded under her then-stage name, Erin Rae & The Meanwhiles. Three years later, she shifted her sound and laid her truth bare with her sophomore record Putting on Airs, which brought a raw, modern take on traditional Americana that solidified her prominence in the music scene.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and touring was put on hold, Rae hunkered down to make new music. This time, she embraced an assortment of psych-folk and cosmic country influences. The result was Lighten Up, her latest album that leans much closer to Laurel Canyon than Music Row.
No matter what cross-genre influences Rae experiments with, she retains a gentle enchantment that endears listeners to her and keeps us wondering what she'll do next.
Take a look at 10 essential songs from Erin Rae's already impressive songbook.
"Bad Mind"From: 'Putting on Airs' (2018)
Self-assessment is at the thematic core of Rae's 2018 album, Putting on Airs. With "Bad Mind," Rae commits to this work even when it challenges and reveals our regrets and shortcomings.
Over several verses, Rae recounts how she failed to own her feelings for a woman from her past. She also takes inventory of all the outside forces that reinforced her actions, leading her to repeat hypnotically, "I don't want to have a bad mind."
"Putting on Airs"From: 'Putting on Airs' (2018)
In "Putting on Airs," Rae continues to face down her regrets. As she sings, "You came to me sweet honey / Someone who cares / I was putting on airs / I was," Rae reflects on the strength in vulnerability — a discovery often only found through time-earned wisdom.
"Modern Woman"From: 'Lighten Up' (2022)
If Putting on Airs expresses Rae's introspective, ruminating side, Lighten Up is the record that invites us to share in a celebration of self-compassion. On "Modern Woman," Rae throws old, limiting stories out the window to make room for newer, more inclusive ones. Over a sunny acoustic guitar and an up-tempo beat, Rae invites us to "come see a modern woman."
"California Belongs to You"From: 'Lighten Up' (2022)
Rae's voice meanders through California memories and landscapes in "California Belongs to You." On the reflective track, Rae gives an old lover custody of California, recognizing her own faults while choosing to leave their old haunts behind.
"My Favorite Picture of You" with Joshua HedleyFrom: 'Luck Mansion Sessions' (2017)
In 2017, Rae teamed up with Joshua Hedley to take on one of Guy Clark's most beautiful songs, "My Favorite Picture of You." Clark penned the song about a 40-year-old polaroid of his wife, Susanna Clark, and released it a year after her death. Hedley and Rae handle the track with care and grace. Rae, in particular, brings out the poignancy of the lyrics with her voice as she sings lines like "My favorite picture of you is the one where it hasn't rained yet."
"Rich Man"From: 'Rich Man b/w Cosmic Sigh (Alt. Version)' 2022
With "Rich Man," Rae pivots away from the familiar lyrical yearnings for a former flame. Instead, she mournfully reflects on how she could have treated her lover better and offers a lesser-heard-of wish: "So I hope you live free / And you don't even wonder / If I'm ever thinkin' of you / Time to time."
"Love Like Before"From: 'Putting on Airs' (2018)
Throughout "Love Like Before," a standout track from Putting on Airs, Rae sings about a restlessness that keeps her "looking for something I can never track down." Her vocals evoke a wistful quality that makes the listener feel like they are eavesdropping in the middle of her daydreams.
"True Love's Face"From: 'True Love's Face' (2021)
Rae's 2021 single "True Love's Face" is a sonic trip back to the 1970s, reminiscent of Norman Greenbaum's super-charged gospel hit, "Spirit in the Sky." Still, Rae's track remains entirely her own, rooted in her supremely nuanced vocals.
"Can't See Stars (Feat. Kevin Morby"From: 'Lighten Up' (2022)
Rae's collaboration with Kevin Morby lies at the heart of Lighten Up. Her voice reverberates with yearning as she sings about the need to break out of the man-made world and get back to places where she can witness natural wonders like starlight firsthand.
"Wild Blue Wind"From: 'Putting on Airs' (2018)
Rae doesn't spare herself from criticism on Putting on Airs but also has no shortage of compassion and empathy when penning lyrics about others. "Wild Blue Wind" finds Rae contemplating the life of a friend who has "gone out into the wild blue wind" of his own troubled mind. She artfully extends hope without diminishing the reality of pain, singing, "He asks me if he's going to be okay / I say sure, but I can't say when."