Durham sextet Delta Rae first caught my ear with their rootsy stomp-infused single, "Bottom of the River," from the band's debut album, Carry the Fire. The song was driven by strong harmonies, simple rhythms and an organic, earthy feel. The rest of that album aimed for something bigger, but remained grounded in its simple approach — focused on lyrics and musicianship with a bit of bigger pop aspirations.
On its sophomore effort, After It All, the band is in "go big or go home" mindset. Gone are the simplistic overtones in favor of arena-rock choruses and symphony-style backing orchestras. The harmonies are still there; you just have to listen a bit more intently for them. The instrumentation is too often hidden behind bombastic, symphonic layering.
"You're the One for Me" and "Scared" start out stripped-down enough, but usually get bigger production by the time the song is over. "I Will Never Die" comes across as a "Bottom of the River" follow-up, but, again, finds itself being a bit too over-produced — missing the raw qualities that made the first song so appealing.
Taken on its own, After It All, could be a brilliant album with wide-reaching mass appeal. It's clean and polished and fitting of massive venues, big-and-bright sing-alongs and manufactured for countless movie soundtracks. In the grand scheme of things, it just feels too "Hollywood" with not enough down-home Durham coursing through its veins. It will be interesting to hear how these songs translate live when the band performs at the Neighborhood Theatre on May 7.