Making the leap

Making the leap

North Carolina’s Delta Rae brings powerful harmonies and pop hooks to One Colorado Saturday

By Bliss Bowen 06/22/2012

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North Carolina as a state may foster closed-minded politics, but over the decades it has also paradoxically nurtured an expansive, fertile music scene. Doc Watson, Earl Scruggs, Ryan Adams and Whiskeytown, Foreign Exchange, Archers of Loaf, Ben Folds Five, Tift Merritt, Squirrel Nut Zippers, the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Superchunk, the Avett Brothers, Megafaun, Lost in the Trees and Birds of Avalon are just some of the artists to emanate from the Tar Heel State. Add to that impressive list Delta Rae, a youthful sextet making a leap for the national stage.
Anchored by three siblings — Ian, Eric and Brittany Hölljes — and longtime friend Elizabeth Hopkins, the band’s four lead vocals are boosted by drummer Mike McKee and bassist Grant Emerson. Ian and Eric write Delta Rae’s songs, expressing their strong pop sensibilities in catchy hooks and the carefully stacked harmonies that form the band’s signature. Google Delta Rae and you’ll find several videos of them performing their own material (notably the gospel-rooted “Bottom of the River”) as well as credible covers of Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep,” Alanis Morissette’s “Your House,” Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” and Kanye West’s “All of the Lights” — choices that represent the various pop elements flavoring their music.
Live, they attract fellow twentysomethings as well as older audiences who appreciate their vocal-centric sound. Listening to tracks like “Morning Comes” and the uplifting “Dance in the Graveyards” from Delta Rae’s new album, “Carry the Fire,” you get the feeling they and/or their producers at Sire/Warner Bros hope to reach fans of Lady Antebellum and Little Big Town — pop-oriented Nashville bands with a similar taste for grand, dramatic choruses and multipart harmonies that call to mind obvious influence Fleetwood Mac. 
The title “Carry the Fire” is drawn from the lead single, “Is There Anyone Out There”: “I am the son of a lost country, of a new world/ And we are born to run and never look back/ …All my heroes they were strange, we all just want to be the same/ Who will lead us when they are gone/ Who will save us when the wrong ones have won?” Those are the album’s meatiest lyrics, and the darkest. “Chain of Love (A Song for Marriage Equality),” which is not included on “Carry the Fire” but is posted on YouTube, is more pointed: “Jesus taught it but now we’ve caught it/ And we won’t let it run wild again/ ’Cause love doesn’t know when it’s a sin.” More relaxed than their slickly produced album, it more effectively showcases the energy and heartfelt performance qualities that have earned Delta Rae a rep as a live band worth seeing. 

KCRW presents an outdoor concert by Delta Rae and DJ Dan Wilcox at One Colorado Courtyard in Old Town Pasadena 7:30-9:30 p.m. Saturday, June 23. Free admission.,


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