The great painter Georgia O’Keeffe once said, “When you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it’s your world for the moment.” Americana songwriter Kelley McRae approaches songwriting the same way, immersing herself in the colors and meaning each song offers up. Her new album, The Wayside, released April 7th, 2016, is a bouquet of blooming tone-paintings, each tender and intimate in their own right, exploring the rugged, unfolding experience of life on the road. McRae’s vision is completed by co-writer, guitarist and husband Matt Castelein, whose distinctive guitar work and vocal harmonies add nuance and energy to the album.
In 2011, McRae and Castelein traded their New York apartment for a VW van and decided to tour full time with their music, travelling extensively in American and Europe for performances, crafting new masterworks as they traveled. The Wayside is a testament to the inspiration inherent in the American landscape, the grief intrinsic to change, and the hope that comes with stepping onto unknown soil.
Recorded in Vancouver, BC, The Wayside brings on acclaimed Canadian producer Roy Salmond to polish McRae’s raw lyricism. He also plays keys, bass and percussion on several tracks. Additional brushstrokes from Jon Andersen on lap and pedal steel and Spencer Capier on violin, mandolin, and the traditional Greek bouzouki lend depth and variety.
Her fifth release, The Wayside seems to flow organically from Kelley McRae. “I fell in love with writing,” she said, “I found I was better at singing what I meant than saying what I meant and I still am all these years later. I keep coming back because I don’t know how to understand life without the process of songwriting.” As a consequence, McRae’s songwriting has contemplative undercurrents, drawing the listener in to the emotional universality of her words. Her song, “If You Need Me,” off the new album, showcases this sort of poeticism, and in particular, her ability to intertwine introspection with external environment. “I wrote [the song] when I was struggling with a big life decision...We were touring on the West Coast and one afternoon we happened to have a few free hours at Lake Tahoe. It was one of those beautiful, crisp, blue sky days and I could imagine all the things I was worried about just kind of drifting away on that huge blue expanse of water. The song came out of that feeling and was one of those rare songs that we wrote pretty effortlessly,” McRae said. Songs like “Land of the Noonday Sun” and “Rare Bird,” similarly reference the “rivers,” “higher ground,” and “sunsets” of her travels.
The Wayside, McRae says, “is the place along the side of the road where things get left behind, or where you go to rest awhile, or where you go find something you lost along the way.” McRae’s songs sip life from the tension between holding on and letting go, blooming in their rich search for truths.