Kelley McRae Brings Her Catchy, Lyrical Acoustic Americana to the Lower East

by delarue

Kelley McRae is a darling of the Paste Magazine set. Aw, good grief, you say. Do we really need another fresh-faced rich white girl faking her way through a formerly blue-collar sound that’s been done to death? Actually, with her airy, unadorned soprano and catchy tunesmithing, McRae is the real deal, bringing some rare depth to the newschool Americana genre. She’s got a new record, The Wayside – her fifth – streaming at Spotify and a show at the big room at the Rockwood on May 10 at 9. Cover is $10.

The core of the band on the album comprises McRae’s guitarist husband Matt Castelein, with Jon Andersen on pedal steel and lapsteel and Spencer Caper on violin, mandolin and bouzouki. The opening track, Land of the Noonday Sun sets the stage over an elegant weave of fingerpicking:

Time goes by like a dream
No matter how hard you run
Some things are better left unsaid
Some things are better left undone

Driven by Castelein’s punchy dobro, the surprisingly hard-charging newgrass shuffle Hard Night has a full band with bass, drums and organ; it reminds of Jenifer Jackson‘s latest adventures in Americana. “It’s just one of those days,” McRae sighs with a wounded resignation as the bittersweetly swaying, subtly Tex-Mex tinged If You Need Me gets underway. The plainspoken Reach You offers a stark, telling look at how you can never count on someone staying on the same track with you: ” Too many nights feeling brokedown and bruised,” as McRae puts it..

The album’s title cut rises toward an unexpectedly ornate, majestic peak, awash in lingering steel guitar over a big thumping beat. The album’s best track is the broodingly scrambling Oklahoma shuffle Red Dirt Road, propelled by more crescendoing Castelein dobro work. By contrast, Andersen’s keening steel fuels A Long Time, a bitter lament for years wasted waiting for dashed hopes to come true.

With McRae’s high lonesome avian metaphors, Rare Bird offers a bittersweet shout-out to a restlessly insatiable type. Driven by Castelein’s psychedelic acoustic fretwork, Tell It Again looks back to 70s Britfolk. The album closes with Rose, a Willie Nelson-esque, jazz-tinged lullaby and then the nocturnal ballad All the Days That Have Come Before, McRae’s narrator taking a decisive step away from the past. It’s an unselfconsciously intense way to wind up this mix of vividly melancholy tunesmithing.