May 16--When some artists take on the mantle of so-called retro genres likes blues, garage rock or soul, they sound like throwbacks.
Not that there's anything wrong with that, but it's not the case with Arum Rae, a trained jazz singer from Austin, Texas, whose rockin' new EP, "Waving Wild," takes familiar styles and puts a contemporary spin on them, using digital effects and her own sultry voice.
Rae, who also plays guitar, will be in downtown Wilmington on Wednesday for a show at The Whiskey.
"I live and play in 2013, but I'm really influenced by blues and jazz," Rae said during a recent phone interview while on tour with her trio, bassist Evan Nicholson and 18-year-old drummer Tom Sykes.
Formerly with an outfit called White Dress that turned heads at SXSW and elsewhere (then, she performed as Arum Rae Valkonen), Rae "wanted to clean the slate" after the group broke up. "I knew I needed to get into a studio. I didn't have any money, but I called my most favorite musicians."
Knowing she had checks coming from having a song she co-wrote with John Paul White of the Civil Wars, "If I Didn't Know Better," featured on hit ABC show "Nashville," "The (musicians) worked with me and that meant the world," Rae said. "It was just something that needed to come."
The result was the five-song album "Waving Wild," which showcases Rae's ability to both rock out ("Let's Shake") and chill out ("Visions"). What's most striking, though, is a sexiness that can be alternately understated and overt, as when she sings, repeatedly, "I'll show you mine/ You show me yours" on "You Can't Tell."
"I didn't want to talk about emotional things anymore," Rae said of the new record. "I wanted to have fun."
"I feel most sexy when I'm singing or playing. Sex and music are interchangeable," she added with a laugh. "I like being able to express myself that way without feeling like a ho."
Rae's got an uncommon array of influences. She grew up singing in the church choir and going to Christian school while listening to country legends Hank Williams and Patsy Cline. Later, she studied vocal jazz and taught herself to play guitar, becoming enamored of lyricists as diverse as Cole Porter, Ira Gershwin, Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, all songwriters who manage to be both poetic and stylishly direct, but not so direct as to eliminate every hint of mystery.
"They say things from the hip," as Rae succinctly puts it.
Such underpinnings lend her own songs lyrical heft, notably on the spare, spooky "Loneliness (Congo) Tuned to C," which contains the Dylan-esque line, "There's a martyr in my bed/ Who's standing on his head."
It's powerful stuff, and has led some writers to liken Rae to the likes of PJ Harvey and Patti Smith, although a better comparison might land her somewhere between Cat Power and Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
"I love those women, so I guess I'm honored," Rae said. "But I don't want to be put in that box."
The near future will see Rae touring, trying to develop her career and talking to labels, although she's fine with staying indie. She's got a close-knit team that's giving her some publicity support.
In the meantime, Rae said, "There's nothing better than turning up your guitar and your amp and rocking out. It's like sex or a good meal. It's a release."
John Staton: 343-2343
(c)2013 the Star-News (Wilmington, N.C.)
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