REVIEW: Rachael Sage’s Delancey Street

Reviews are, for me, stories. Everything is a story. Let me tell you a story, about a CD that charms and delights me. Rachael Sage is an interesting talent. I don’t mean interesting in the Chinese sense, so much as honestly quite interesting. She’s also, quite possibly, a name you don’t know at all. There are reasons for this. They highlight some interesting problems with the industry she works in. But let’s go back a minute.

Way back around 1998 or ’99 I was in a record store, as I often was, and playing my normal game. No matter how many or how few CDs I planned on buying, I didn’t go shopping unless I had money for one CD on top of my planned purchases. The game was – that CD had to be by an artist I didn’t know. It had to be something utterly new. Which is how I ended up with a copy of Sage’s Smashing the Serene.

Self-produced and self-released, like all of her albums, it was an incredibly strong work, though one in flux. After picking up her prior release Morbid Romantic I could fully see the trails that she seemed to follow, both as a musician and writer from one set of songs to the next. There was evolution going on in front of my eyes.

It also didn’t hurt that the music was fantastic, I’ll tell you.

Anyway! Since then I’ve been a constant fan, grabbing new releases when they would happen and following her evolution and growth as a force in the industry.

Now it’s time for her 9th release, Delancey Street. She’s been hailed as “One of the Top 100 Independent Artists Of The Past 15 Years” by Performing Songwriter Magazine, and it’s a title she deserves. So when I was asked if I would be interested in reviewing the new release I leapt at the chance.

According to her official bio: Delving into the writing process for her latest album Delancey Street with her typical fervor, the two-time Independent Music Award winner turned to her immigrant Jewish heritage, combined with the prospect of finally moving from the same East Village Manhattan neighborhood she’d lived in for over a decade, as a creative starting point. Inspired by the Green Movement and her own very personal desire to “redefine what ‘environment’ means to me”, Sage decided to give herself exactly a year to let go of over a decade’s worth of accumulated miscellanea, and to move to the musically vibrant Lower East Side.

Delancey Street is something of a revelation in Rachael Sage’s work. There’s a sense of grounding overlaid with a lighter touch and a certain deftness that can be hard to pin down. Certainly she has fully grown into using a band (The Sequins, by name. No lie.) to back her up, which is a far cry from Smashing the Serene, which found her trying to integrate other people with her own sound fully. She’s mastered that, never losing the feeling that it is one woman, alone in a room, telling you stories, but instead there are other instruments that serve to flesh out the sonic field and themes within each song.

The entire album seems built on this quiet lushness of sound, in fact. It backs up and underscores the lyrics, never overpowering, only enhancing. Nice trick, really. Something more people should learn.

There are moments where it feels as if these songs have always existed, and simply inhabit the now, waiting for you to find them. Then there are things like her cover of Hall & Oates’ Rich Girl. It shouldn’t work. Mostly because no one should cover Hall & Oates on principle. But it does work, dropping back into a soft jazz modulation with that same little twist that you will quickly learn is what makes a Rachael Sage song a Rachael Sage song. You can’t mistake them for anything else.

Part of that is her voice, of course. Which stretches into this soft, flat surface at times with a soft vibrato that undulates across your consciousness. Aww hell here, thanks to the folks she works with, just listen to it yourself:

[gplayer href=”http://www.adampknave.com/words/nyc/richgirl.mp3″ ] Rachael Sage – Rich Girl off of Delancey Street [/gplayer]

I will say that Back to Earth feels like the weakest cut on this album. By itself the song is fine, a good, firm, outing. In the context of the other 12 songs, however, it feels oddly lacking. Just enough to make it noticeable.

Also, if you get the electronic version of Delancey Street, which is out today, you’ll get a bonus 13th track that is one of the most wonderful things I’ve come across in a while. Sage covers Fame. Yes, the theme song to the show/movie. And she turns it into the most heartfelt, staggeringly hopeful and heartbreaking (at the same time, mind you) thing around. It blows me away and I have to say I can not recommend highly enough – if you buy Delancey Street get it off Amazon MP3 or iTunes so you get that track. You’ll be more than glad you did.

So given all this, the awards, the press, the sheer talent – why haven’t you heard of Rachael Sage, possibly, until now? She’s her own label. She always has been. And that’s the problem. Not, please note, a problem as in “Something she should fix” but a problem in terms of “this stupid industry is geared to work against that.” Even now. And so it is harder and harder to discover new, truly creative acts because they aren’t getting millions of dollars thrown around to make sure you know their name and what they do.

Still. You know her name now. Don’t forget it. Go buy Delancey Street, and then, once you’re hooked, pick up the other 8 releases.

If you want to get this one for yourself you’ll want to go over to Rachael Sage dot Com where there should be info and links to buy things (just click this handy link)! You can find links to pre-order the physical CD, and also links directly to go directly to Amazon and iTunes for the electronic versions right above the cover image. Yup, the electronic versions are out today, ahead of the physical CD. So go, now and enjoy.

By Adam P. Knave

Adam P. Knave wrote this, but you knew that, since this is his site. That's kinda how it works.

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