Arum Rae is the rare artist capable of conveying entire worlds of feeling with the subtlest movement of her voice. On her new album Loose Ends, mainly produced by Wesley Schultz of The Lumineers, the Nashville-based singer/songwriter shares a batch of songs rooted in stories of loss and hope and transformation, each delivered with exquisite nuance. Centered on the quietly powerful vocal presence she’s shown in staring stages with the likes of Willie Nelson, Rodriguez, B.B. King, and Gary Clark Jr., the result is an immediately transportive body of work, at once meditative and endlessly mesmerizing.
The follow-up to 2017’s Sub Rosa, Loose Ends first took shape as Arum and Schultz swapped song ideas and voice memos in the early stages of lockdown. Although they’d planned to record in Schultz’s basement in Colorado, the two collaborators ultimately headed to Sun Mountain Studios in Woodstock, where studio owner David Baron joined Schultz in co-producing the album and musicians like James Felice of The Felice Brothers and Lumineers bassist Byron Isaacs helped to sculpt its stark yet luminously detailed sound (in addition, Baron adorned several songs with his graceful piano work, an element he’s brought to past recordings with artists like Bat for Lashes and Jade Bird). “When we started recording my intention was to trim everything down to the core, to keep it very lo-fi and acoustic,” says Arum. “As we began working we felt that some of the songs should be taken to the next level, which is what brought us to Woodstock. But even with everything we added it’s still very much minimalistic—we were both protective of the raw emotion and character of the songs.”
The spellbinding opener to Loose Ends, “Headboards” spins an intimate portrait of regret and grief and gradual acceptance, elegantly threaded with heavy-hearted reflection (from the chorus: “I was always waiting for the blue moon rising/You were always waiting for your song to sing/I was never worried about our feelings dying/We were never going to be alone again”). While “Headboards” first emerged in response to the sudden, opioid-related death of an acquaintance, Arum also mined her own interior experience in bringing the song to life. “I’ve moved around a lot, and ‘Headboards’ partly came from feeling lost, a sense of searching,” she says. “In a way it’s about being okay with not being okay.” On “Country Road,” Arum muses on the sublime sense of peace she finds in traveling to her family’s farm in Virginia, sharply contrasting her soft and soulful vocals with Schultz’s jagged guitar work. “We felt like we needed a character to take us home at the end of the song, so Byron played this drawn-out, distorted line on his upright bass,” she recalls. “It felt like an animal sound, so we called it ‘the moose.’” A sweetly lilting piece of introspection, “Shadow” presents what Arum refers to as “my theme song off the record” (“It means letting go and crawling out of the hole to seek the beauty of life instead of hiding from it,” she notes). And in one of the most stunning moments on Loose Ends, Arum brings her finespun storytelling to a gently devastating track called “Plain Blue Ribbon.” “As I was writing that song I pictured a woman who’s just had a baby shower and has all these blue ribbons still up at her house, but then she has a very untimely miscarriage,” says Arum. “Miscarriage is such a prevalent experience and yet we hardly acknowledge it, and I felt a real freedom being able to talk about it in this song.”
Listing such singular vocalists as Etta James, Tom Waits, and Erykah Badu among her longtime touchstones, Arum first discovered her love of singing as a little girl in Colorado and later immersed herself in songwriting while studying at Berklee College of Music. Over the years, she’s explored a vast range of musical styles (blues, soul, Americana, garage rock), imbuing her songs with an unfettered honesty she partly attributes to the free-flowing quality of her writing process. “I first fell in love with putting words together after reading The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron and making a habit of writing morning pages,” says Arum. “It’s something I still keep up with now, and usually by the third page of stream-of-consciousness writing something creative will come through, sometimes even in rhyme.”
In looking back on the making of Loose Ends, Arum speaks to the charmed nature of her collaboration with Schultz and their fellow musicians. “I’ve been fortunate to work with some great people in my life, but it’s crucial to work with someone you really connect with,” she says. “Working on songs like ‘Plain Blue Ribbon’ and being met with so much support helped me to trust my creative gift even more than I had before.” And in sharing the album with the world, she hopes that her audience might find a similar sense of solace and expansion. “A lot of this album is about release; it’s describing the hard times but to me the overall theme is hope,” she says. “No matter what, I want everyone to find their own perception of the songs—with everything I do, I always just want to bring people closer to themselves.”
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