Janel Rae 
Dinner with Stranger

Independent • 2022

Janel Rae has a gift for songwriting, capturing the nervous system’s fight, flight, freeze, rest, and digest modes.

Janel Rae’s Dinner with Stranger has a very romantic feel to it. For me, it aligns with Joni Mitchel’s Hejira era, which I suspect Rae references  on opener “Clove”: “Spent the afternoon with Joni, travelling the world.” Dinner with Stranger immediately feels like traversing a landscape with navigation tools you could only gain in retrospect. It is humble yet intentional, much like the guiding voice of an experienced narrator with no ulterior motive but to tell the story.

Rae has a gift for songwriting, capturing the nervous system’s fight, flight, freeze, rest, and digest modes, often juxtaposing them in lyrics and instrumental arrangement. Rae incorporates found sounds from nature and daily life, including what sounds like a spoon grazing the edge of a glass jar.

With powerful imagery in her lyrics, Rae sonically explores what self-regulation might look like in the day-to-day swing of life: ”I spilt a jar of jam on the carpet / and I can’t remove the stain / now when I look down / it reminds me of the fight we had that day.” Delving into grief on “Sometimes”, Rae writes, “I can’t go living this way with you etching yourself in between the lines of this smile”.

Dinner with Stranger has a theatricality to it, depicting dramatic lifts and plunges in vocals accompanied by pounding piano melodies and changes in pacing. While “This Bed” is rapt with urgency, “Honey” flows like the unfolding emotion of someone with nowhere else to be but in the moment. I would like to type out all of “Winter” and let the lyrics speak for themselves, but there’s one line that stands out: “No one’s gonna tell you what it feels like to live.”

Dinner with Stranger is an honest expression of what it’s like to experience something beyond your previous comprehensive ability. It beautifully navigates all the devastation and regeneration that often occurs, naturally, simultaneously.

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Erica Dee Mah 
The Sargasso Season