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Charleston-based musician Sam Rae Wants Her Voice to be Heard

Charleston-based musician Sam Rae Wants Her Voice to be Heard
August 2020

The cellist for Brandi Carlile has a new solo album out this month

Sam Rae has called Charleston home for only about a year and a half now, but eagle-eyed fans may remember glimpsing the Iowa native onstage here before—back in 2018 at the High Water Music Festival, as a member of Brandi Carlile’s touring band.

A classically trained cellist, Rae has been performing with Carlile since 2015, but she’s also been steadily releasing her own material, including her third and most fully realized album, Ten Thousand Years, out on August 7. It’s an intimate alt-folk slow burn, and Rae’s dusky, lilting alto—inescapably reminiscent of Joni Mitchell or Cat Power—is a perfect aesthetic fit.

But Ten Thousand Years also has plenty of drive and depth, thanks to its tastefully layered production, the backing band Rae has assembled, and her prodigious lyrical gifts. “We always need reminding of what we haven’t lost,” she tells us on “Waukee,” the album’s standout track. Rae says the song had its genesis during a time when her aunt was sick with cancer. “Time seems to pass us by really quickly, but then something happens that’s really jarring…and it takes those events to shake you up and remind you that you can slow down and take your time,” Rae says.

Charleston-based alt-folk musician Sam Rae, who has played in Brandi Carlile’s band, releases her third album, Ten Thousand Years, this month.

Ten Thousand Years doesn’t deal much in hooks and catchy choruses, but its meandering pace—punctuated by jangly guitars, interesting chord voicings, and lush backing vocals—is intentional and beguiling. Once you accept that Rae is taking you on a journey, you can surrender to the pleasantly soporific ride. This approach served Rae well in her previous release, 2017’s Bring Us to New Islands, which is more tight-knit and sonically compartmentalized.

But the songs on Ten Thousand Years are more sweeping in scope. “Delaine,” for instance, is filled with surprising twists and turns—a chameleon that’s hard to pin down and doesn’t end up where you expect. “I wrote it about Iowa and the spaciousness that I felt there, and I think back on that time with a lot of love and respect,” she says.

The album’s gorgeous closing track, “Dying Here,” was written about immigrant children being held in cages and how “deeply disturbing that is.” But Rae acknowledges that when viewed through the lens of 2020, “Dying Here” can take on different meanings. Regardless, it features an unforgettable refrain as this trying year wears on: “The fire is not in the rich, it’s in the fire that lights the ditch.” 

Listen Up: Hear singles from Rae‘s album