Jillian Rae: Heartbeat

Paul Whyte

We first became aware of Jillian Rae after her contribution on Preston Gunderson’s latest album, “Getting Good at Starting Over” on the track, “Night.” Some might wonder, “Paul, you used to measure how good a show was by the amount of bruises on your body the next day. Don’t you only go down to the Twin Cities to see old school industrial bands? Why are you writing mostly positive reviews for pop artists?” The reason some music gets positive reviews is because it is good music. When taking a look at the musicianship, vocals and production of some of the albums I’m sent, I think some of this undiscovered pop music easily beats the stuff I hear on the radio. It’s not my most favorite music, but if I were to compare everything to how much I like Smashing Pumpkins and The Pixies, then very few would get a good review. “This album is nothing like Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, therefore it’s crap!” After spending many years as a booking agent and open mic host, I found that I’ve been able to enjoy and appreciate a lot of music that I might not have when I was jumping around in a mosh pit in my late teens and early college years.
Jillian Rae’s “Heartbeat” lies in the realm of pop and country/Americana. First off, who the hell is Jillian Rae? Well, she’s an Iron Range girl brought up in Eveleth. She knew of Preston Gunderson, also from the Iron Range, and she has performed music with his mother as a child. She is a classically trained musician with a music degree and moved to Duluth in 2007. When she moved to Duluth she met musicians such as Ashley Northey and Marc Gartman. “I remember that I was walking out of my car after an orchestra audition and these guys were yelling out the window, ‘Is that a fiddle?’ I jumped in and jammed a little with them and all of a sudden we became this new band in town called Two Many Banjos. Lane Prekker ended up playing washboard with us…that’s where it started for me,” noted Jillian. She worked with Two Many Banjos for three years and eventually moved to Minneapolis where she currently lives. Besides her own material she plays with a number of bands including Corpse Reviver, Steve Kaul & The Brass Kings, Brian Just Band, Blackberry Brandy Boys & The Fiddle Heirs. She has also worked in projects with Duluth based artists such as Dave Mehling.
When taking a listen Rae’s album, with the first track, “Heartbeat,” it’s pretty easy to find that it is a pop album of sorts with hint of country. But what’s going on with the musicianship, production and delivery? It’s totally solid. A uptempo sway of professionally laid out instruments including some fiddle solos. The highlight of the song is a breakdown which brings in an almost Klezmer band type swing that starts off slowly and gradually picks up the pace back into the chorus. The lyrics are seductive as well as effective for what the song is, “your hand upon my hand/your fingers running through my hair/your breath upon my skin/your lips reveal everything.”
The track “Someboday” lets off of what some would construe as mainstream pop. A lot of the album does deal with break ups, when you throw in the mild country aspect, it’s easy to make a Taylor Swift comparison. While this connection could be made, there is actually more depth and less of a bubblegum pop feel than Swift’s music. Likewise, the upbeat country tune, “Lay it to Rest;” and the more contemplative “Don’t Want You Back,” which opens with the line “please lose my number…” deal with break ups and moving on. The difference between Rae and Swift is that the music is more believable.
In the track,”Last Time,” the lines “without any warning you were gone and so was I, mentally speaking so not to confuse. Breakdown on the bathroom floor. And I am drowning in this sorrow we call love.” The song is certainly a bit bitter, the music on the other hand is kind of upbeat and empowered. While there is good musicianship and decent material overall, the connection between laying down the feelings and emotion behind the messages lacks a full impact. This isn’t always necessary, take a look at the song “Hey Ya” by Outkast, not everything needs to hit like a Radiohead song, but sometimes pop music doesn’t fully convey the true emotions behind a matter. While in of itself, the songs are good, something that really makes music truly shine is convincing the listener of full out feeling.
All in all the album is a little more about just moving on than it is about hurting about a certain bad relationship or breakup. When thinking about music that leans towards pop and brings out honest and truthful emotion, look at the song, “Call it Off” by Tegan and Sara. It’s simple and catchy, yet hard hitting.
Rae brings out a lot of genuine talent in “Heartbeat” and it is easily assessable at least to us. We talked to her briefly and apparently not everyone feels that way. Her music is considered too pop for stations like The Current, but is too indie for pop stations. It’s a rather interesting hole that some artists find themselves in. I appreciate solidly put together music, which this is. Rae is backed by stellar band and what she brings to the table from vocals to her violin is straight up fantastic. The question that she seems to face is whether to make herself more pop or figure out a way to adjust her talents to be more acceptable to the indie music scene. Certainly anyone watching her live should be able to find that she is quite talented, but in this day and age, talent may not be the deciding factor of how far someone’s music goes and that’s too bad. Check out Rae for yourself on Friday, January 24 at Fitger’s Brewhouse. She will be joined by a guitar player and she’ll be laying down the fiddle and vocals.