Boston’s Emerald Rae is a fiddle virtuoso and multi-instrumentalist whose talents provide many arresting moments in her second full-length, If Only I Could Fly. Tunes here range from mid-tempo numbers like opener “If Only I Could Fly” to instrumental rave-ups like “Fire Fly” (the best tune on the album), to slow, introspective numbers such as “Summer Time Will Come”. The musicianship is spot-on and exciting, and includes the unusually rich tones of the traditional Welsh fiddle or crwth (“crooth”)—which makes it all the more frustrating that Rae’s relatively weak vocals hamper the proceedings.
It’s not that her voice is awful (it isn’t), but neither is it strong enough to match her instrumental chops, with the effect that the listener constantly waffles between excitement and a sinking feeling of “Oh, this again”. Vocal-heavy songs such as “Go Dig My Grave” and “The Marauder” are especially affected by substandard vocal performances, while tunes that minimize as much in favor of instrumental sounds—“Fire Fly”, “Nameless”—fare much better. Still worth a listen for fans of neo-trad folk-inflected singer-songwriting, but not nearly as strong as it could be.