Delta Rae is a hard band to classify. The sextet’s opulent, theatrical, soulful country-pop feels classic and fresh at the same time. With anthemic songs and big, robust harmonies and arrangements, their first album Carry the Fire was slotted into the Folk and Americana categories, but that was a stretch. The same is true of their sophomore effort. If “folk” means intelligent, inspired songwriting with lyrics you can understand, then I guess After It All is “folk.” But only in the very stretchy way Mumford & Sons is “roots.”
The shiny power-pop and soul-drama on After It All calls to mind progenitors from all over the musical map: Fleetwood Mac (the band collaborated with Lindsey Buckingham on a song from the 2012 EP Chasing Twisters), the Dixie Chicks, Bon Jovi, Crowded House, Abba. I could go on; Delta Rae’s sound is a cornucopia.
Also, it’s rare to find new music that speaks to adult listeners but also sports youthful brightness. Delta Rae’s lyrics now and then read as simplistic or clichéd, but dressed in richly imagined arrangements and starkly beautiful melodies, the songs work nonetheless, many of them brilliantly.
The new album’s brief opening track “Anthem” bespeaks the collection’s original conception as a concept album. Beginning by musing “Am I always on the edge of quitting?” it unfolds into a melodic instrumental passage, heavy on synthesized strings. Those strings are back for “Run,” a throbbing mini-anthem in an unconventional 6/4 time signature. Brittany Hölljes’s liquid vocals leap into the angelic range before being joined by triumphant harmonies in a final refrain: “I want to run.”
Full-on choral harmonies support emotional lead vocals on “Outlaws.” Soaring dynamics make “Scared” one of the album’s best tracks. The most powerful singer in the band, which also includes brothers Ian and Eric Hölljes, is Elizabeth Hopkins, but the album saves Hopkins’s cast-iron country/R&B lead vocals until “Chasing Twisters” and the rocking “Bethlehem Steel,” the latter sounding like 1970s icon Pat Benatar backed by The Moody Blues. The band’s multiple and very different lead voices give Delta Rae more tonal colors than most bands can boast, and this is a key part of the group’s distinctiveness.
Delta Rae isn’t averse to grim edges. The bitter “Cold Day in Heaven” and the angry, bluesy, gospel stomp of “I Will Never Die” march by without a touch of sweetness. But “your anger has such beauty underneath,” goes the lyric in “The Meaning of it All.” Delta Rae’s distinct melodic gift gives its music a wide-ranging appeal, and a timeless quality too. The closing song (not counting two bonus tracks) is the title track, which has an almost carol-like tune and sparkle. It’s an appropriate finale to an album of soaring melodies and a deep-hearted, determined, and joyful feel.