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Ballads and Burlesque CD Cover
Image © Mpress Records 2004

More Rachael Sage:
Interview and Reviews
Painting Of A Painting
Illusion's Carnival
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(25 May 2005) Ballads And Burlesque (Mpress Records (USA) MP81881-2, 2004) is New Yorker Rachel Sage's sixth album released on her own label, but the first with her as sole producer and arranger--and maybe she's regretting not taking on these addition roles earlier as she has indeed done a stunning all-round job.

There are many aspects of this CD which lift it way above the common run of female singer-songwriter albums. The first thing that strikes the listener is the superb control of the vocals. Listen, for example, to the delivery of "Why Not Love." Throughout, the vocals fit the mood and lyric of the pieces--these just aren't songs being sung, these are songs being lived and played out. One might almost say 'acted' out.

Sage says the ten songs on this album are about different aspects of seduction--and she doesn't take the obvious options either. These tracks view the world from a number of perspectives. In the opening song, "Saviour," for example, she takes a male perspective. "It's been a long time since you've held this hand/And since then I've grown from a boy to a man." Rachel's one of those artists whose lyrics, when read, have you scratching your head, yet when sung in context, are perfect--vividly evocative and displaying some dexterous rhythmic and melodic sensibilities.

But perhaps the greatest surprise of this album is the work of Rachel Sage as arranger. Using twenty or so guest musicians, the pieces here are something of a master-class in how to present songs in a variety of imaginative ways to create appropriate and sympathetic settings. The album is based around a variety of keyboards and some tremendously empathic drum work. The music is bejeweled with sudden unexpected melody lines, for example the glistening piano break in "Sacrifice."

There's some shimmering guitar in the powerful "It's So Hard." She's not afraid to use less common instruments either including some muted trumpet in "One True Thing." And again in the blissful song to the enduring power of love "Jane’s Dimitri." If if there was an award for 'best use of an accordion on a contemporary song,' "Leah" would take it hands down. The use of strings too is faultless. There are no massive, clumsy washes here, just subtle, expressive touches which add to the mood and feeling. The musicianship throughout is exemplary.

In the past, Sage has made no secret of her admiration for, and influence of, Ani Difranco, but Ballads And Burlesques represents a welcome sea-state change and a strong move away from her earlier folk and Ani-ish based music; the ghosts of both have been entirely laid to rest here. This time, Rachel's found a voice of her own and it's one you need to hear.--Jamie Field in Hereford, England

 
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