By Sydney Miller, Staff Writer
Sam Rae may be known as Brandi Carlile’s cellist, but her new album, Ten Thousand Years, proves that she is much, much more than that.
Ten Thousand Years, Rae’s second full-length, is a beautiful sequence of calm and contemplative folk music. Unsurprisingly, there’s a major focus on the cello, much more than any other indie or folk album I’ve heard.
The first track, simply titled “Intro,” is an instrumental, ambient song. It made perfect sense to me that Rae would have an instrumental intro — she’s a cellist, and a good one. The intro alone made me regret giving up cello my sophomore year of high school, and my cello-envy only got worse as the album progressed.
After the intro comes the title track, “Ten Thousand Years,” a slow but bouncy track with a nice beat, sultry vocals, and twangy plucking. Rae uses ten thousand years as a metaphor for her life’s story: “Third thousand came on / Spinnin’ like demons / Is where I learned what people could do to you.”
“Colors of the Highway” is a haunting but gentle acoustic track that shows off the extent of Rae’s musical experience. There’s not a lot of movement in the song, but every instrument fits perfectly and influences a mood shift.
The next two tracks, “Waukee” and “Delaine,” are as close as you’ll get to rocking on this album. But even these upbeat songs are controlled, precise. That’s the beauty of Rae’s music — she understands how to blend lyrics, vocals, and instruments to create an experience that swirls around you and lets you hear everything without being overwhelmed.
Rae’s songs aren’t just poems set to music or instrumental pieces with lyrics laid over them. They’re an intricate mix of music and words that combine to make a gorgeous album.
After the groovy “Delaine,” Rae brings the mood back down with “Strangest Thing,” an eerie melding of guitar and cello, pick and bow. The low whine of the cello in the background of the acoustic chords builds throughout the song to create a lovely swirl.
“Just In Case” builds on the gorgeous cello from “Strangest Thing” and goes a step further with a cello solo that, in the end, made me glad I gave up cello – when it dawned on me that I’d never be able to play anything that exquisite.
Things take a more personal turn in “Combustible Stars,” a melancholy but vague look back on what could have been, and in “Head Rush,” a deeply personal love song: “I’m struck by the way you still like me when I’m crazed / I’m holdin’ your hand like a river babe / And there’s something that makes you cry every day.”
The album slows toward a denouement with “Love is Love,” a clearly queer declaration that things are progressing forward in society, and anyone who is still against gay marriage is stuck in the past: “Different words can make a same sentence / Different words can describe the same thing / Oh and love is a changing thing.”
“Dying Here,” the final track, is a slow, expansive, and instrument-heavy song. It’s the perfect bookend to this album, which started with a slow and almost timid instrumental track, as the album circles back to end with a clear and confident show of Rae’s instrumental prowess.
This album is a perfect soundtrack for a contemplative drive or walk in nature, especially because of the strong cello presence. All the songs have a meditative feeling — the album doesn’t really have any bops, but it’s all the better for it.
In her album dedication, Rae thanked her wife, Catherine Crutchfield, for being “my behind the scenes super hero, my strong encouraging voice that is forever whispering in my ear, ‘Never compromise your art. You are too good for that.’”
None of the eleven tracks on this album sound compromised in any way. And just because the songs aren’t loud or rowdy doesn’t mean they don’t have soul and heart in them. This album is clearly the album Rae wanted to make, and that authenticity elevates this album to a whole other level.
“Ten Thousand Years” is available at https://www.samraemusic.com/music