It would be tempting to compare Rae and the Ragdolls with fellow retro-rockers Greta Van Fleet: Both are precocious gangs of college-age songsmiths channeling the familiar warmth of the psychedelic era. But Rae and the Ragdolls feel authentic — like a quartet of hippies from 1971 who got in their groovy mystery-solving van and traveled through a tie-dyed wormhole into our modern world.
Their sound brings the acidic psychedelia of latter-period Beatles, the grinding crunch of Cream and the familial intimacy of the Partridge Family to a world overdosed on trap rap and EDM.
The band, which has a rehearsal space in Alpharetta, just released its debut album, Sunshine in a Shadow, Vol. 1. Rae and the Ragdolls are scheduled to perform February 24 at MadLife Stage and Sound in Woodstock.
The group has its genesis in the partnership between Natasha Rae Warmers and William Bennet Jr. “Will and I have known each other for a pretty long time,” says Warmers. “We used to play in a Red Hot Chili Peppers cover band together.”
Seeking to broaden her horizons in the world of original music, Warmers initially began writing for a singer-songwriter solo project before getting Bennet involved. “We were both songwriters and when we started dating we decided ‘Let’s start writing some music!’”
As they began to write together, they found that their shared love of the flower-power era would define their sound. “Natasha and I both love that music,” Bennet says. “When you grow up, you listen to what your parents listen to and that has a really big effect on you.”
The two initially launched their project in Boston but eventually migrated back to their native Georgia and recruited co-guitarist Spencer Lingle, bassist Olivia Towe [full disclosure: this writer was once Towe’s ensemble director] and drummer Devon Hirsch. Having a full band gave the duo a chance to reevaluate their songs, giving them fuller arrangements.
That collaboration eventually gave rise to the band’s debut album, Sunshine in a Shadow, Vol. 1. A first listen shows a band whose songwriting maturity and pop sensibilities reach infinitely further than their youthful years, but Warmers is quick to explain that the record is a loosely linked narrative experience. “One day I had a dream about these characters,” she says, “and I was like, ‘This would be perfect for a concept album.’”
The concept follows the journey of an earthbound deity named Jasper who encounters four women in his travels, each represented by a different color. “The first girl that he meets up with is Penny,” Warmers says. “She’s the girl who’s represented by orange. She’s the happy, flower-power, free-love type character. ‘All I Wanna Do Is Love,’ ‘Sunshine Eyes’ and ‘In the Sun’ are the songs that represent her. Jasper has this relationship with her, then he moves on and has a relationship with Eve, who is represented by red. ‘Sick’ is Eve’s song.”
Jasper’s journey of psycho-spiritual lovemaking will be further documented on the album’s upcoming sequel. Given the music world’s pandemic-induced hiatus, Rae and the Ragdolls have taken the time to continue writing and preparing for the live-entertainment industry’s uncertain future.
“We were starting to pick up some steam before the lockdown,” Bennet says. “Just before the quarantine started we were feeling good, and then everything just plummeted. It’s very tough right now.”
Like so many artists, the band has offset its live-concert losses by playing basement shows and livestream events.
Nevertheless, Rae and the Ragdolls remains optimistic for the new year, planning for Sunshine in a Shadow, Vol. 2 to be released in late 2021.