Bring On The Rain is Chris Rawlins’ debut album, which is surprising because he sounds like he’s been sharing his gentle songs for years.
The Michigan native transplanted to Chicago quickly shows the influences of his adopted home: “I’ve been watching the skeletons/frames of buildings going up and then coming down.” The lyrics intertwine urban observation and nascent romance with a jaunty tone that belies moments of moroseness: “I’ve been waiting for me to live/at least that’s what I’ve been calling it/waiting to die.”
City life and city love immediately picks him back up – “I love the smoke resting in your eye” – though the story is complex because suspicion about reciprocated love is tempered by the object of the affection regularly sleeping with, and seeming to love, someone else. Rawlins explains: “I like writing songs with multiple angles or themes happening at the same time and fitting them together under the same emotional umbrella. I take a very visual approach to lyrics and let the narrative seep out of the images.”
Rawlins’ folk influences show strongly in the title track, Bring On The Rain, through his guitar picking style, tone, and temperament. It has the feel of back porch film scene, evoking equal parts nostalgia and pathos.
Almost Anytime picks up the pace just a little with gentle drums and pedal steel guitar up in the mix. Despite sounding supremely tender, it subtly inverts a romantic notion that’s the bedrock of popular music: “I love you when you’re on my mind.”
Leave is a shuffle so slow that it’d be spoken word if tackled by a less smooth voice. As long as you can overlook a double negative, there’s an interesting story of literal and domestic storms in the heart of the Windy City to be found.
Cold Night seems to sees a similar setting -“the empty eyes of houses looking down on me” – but a soaring hawks indicate that we may have taken a trip back to rural America. Tomorrow makes that geographic relocation certain as it’s heady with the sound of pedal steel and the scent of sweet magnolia.
The spectres of death and absence haunt Don’t Forget, but all hope is not lost: “your disappointment’s going to fuel your dreams/you’re going to mope your way to fortune and fame.”
It’s become evident that the more upbeat Rawlins’ sound, the more downbeat his lyrics. You and Your Heart is a case in point as he croons “It’s all in you mind/Your eyes are like a window breaking/It’s cold out and your skin is shaking.”
Lyrically, All You Are ties up and typifies the record, stressing the importance of nostalgia, love, location and patience: “I think you caught me being lonely in my room/Staring at the leaves and how they all fall off too soon/All you are is all I need/How these old wounds start to bleed/I don’t mind.” It leaves a lasting impression.
Tonally, the album has touches of a more introspective and pessimistic Jack Johnson, although Rawlins strolls around hometown memories and fractious city nights rather than surf beaches. There’s a lot to pick apart on this fingerpicked record, and that’s exactly how Rawlins wanted it: “I hope that people take away something like what you’d take away from a painting or photograph, with an endless number of little stories that stem from each image, line [and] verse.”