— Carry the Fire
Right away, there’s reason to be doubtful of Delta Rae’s debut album Carry the Fire. The Durham folk-pop sextet composed of three siblings and three friends has a sound that’s a little too pretty, a little too polished. Their signing to a Warner subsidiary with hardly any track record by Seymour Stein, the guy who took the Ramones, Talking Heads and Madonna to fame, suggests that the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame A&R man sees a band that can be sold though photos and RIYLs versus the strength of their songwriting. He saw how it worked for Mumford & Sons, so why not get in on the ground floor with what could be the American version? The problem is, Delta Rae’s sound is every bit as vigorous and climatic as their supposed Brit counterparts, they just fall well short in the establishment of a band identity. Every striking aspect of the group seems like an attenuated version of something that’s been done recently. There’s hardly any stylistic divergence among the individual components of the group’s gospel-inflected, four-part vocals other than being male and female. Good pop harmonies from groups like fun. and Grizzly Bear stick because they come together to create a sound that’s greater than the individual components. On songs like “Is There Anyone Out There,” it just sounds like a group of people trying to out-sing one another, predictably followed by a bottoming out and another violent upswing in intensity. Songs about dancing in graveyards and other epic emotional events, forced call-and-responses and tedious piano lines that sound pulled straight from a Badly Drawn Boy album overpower the album’s finer moments. Among them are “Country House,” a gently crescendo-ing narrative piece that’s both focused and conclusive when it zeniths, folding away quietly amidst strings and layered harmonies. It’s a terrific song, but it almost feels out of place in Carry the Fire’s efforts to bring Delta Rae out of the gates swinging.