Delta Rae, the dynamic folk-rock sextet from North Carolina, returns with a sophomore release that is even more ambitious than their debut. After It All is a diverse collection of theatrical folk that plays to the band’s strengths while carving a unique niche in what can be a rather bland genre.
After It All began as a concept album set during the Great Recession but evolved to include a variety of stories with different backdrops. Themes of suffering, discontent, and perseverance anchor the LP. The thumping rock of “Bethlehem Steel” tells the story of a Pennsylvania town whose economy crumbled along with the steel industry while the title track explores concepts of life after death. Elizabeth Hopkins sings of an unhealthy love-hate relationship in “Cold Day in Heaven.” “Your kisses are poison and all your words are treason,” she accuses.
With dueling vocals, eclectic instruments, and anthemic choruses, many of Delta Rae’s songs have a theatrical quality. “Run” and “Outlaws” in particular sound fit for a Broadway stage. The upbeat R&B track “My Whole Life Long” is an album highlight, with Eric Hölljes and Hopkins trading soulful vocals.
Though After It All’s first three tracks are subpar, once Delta Rae gets into a groove the album takes off for a series of grandiose folk-rock earwigs. With four talented singers, rich vocal harmonies are at the forefront of the band’s sound.
The band is at its best, however, when exploring the dark fringes of their palette. Brittany Hölljes’s haunting a cappella introduction to “Scared” sets the tone for a song that explores the isolation of a deteriorating relationship over infectious pop grooves, with Eric on lead vocals. “We’re caught between a spark and lightning,” he sings. “We’re caught between forever and nothing at all.”
After It All’s greatest moments come in the gothic anthem “I Will Never Die.” A sort of sequel to “Bottom of the River” from the 2012 debut Carry the Fire, the song finds Delta Rae in top form. The song begins softly, Brittany’s voice an eerie croon as she describes being buried only to have a southern wind “spread my spirit like a flock of crows.” After a deceptively calm first chorus, the band kicks into soaring histrionics. Pounding drums and bass hammer as Brittany unleashes a threatening roar, “You can bury my body but I’ll never die.” Rattling chains and unnerving chants add an extra layer of darkness to the gothic epic before the song concludes where it started, Brittany’s voice soft and foreboding. It is an archetype for Delta Rae’s appeal, dark and edgy folk with an interesting story to tell.