Image © Mpress Records 2006
More Rachael Sage:
album reviews/interview (April 2000)
concert review/interview (March 2006)
Painting Of A Painting (2001)
Illusion's Carnival (2002)
Public Record (2003)
Ballads and Burlesque (2005)
(06 March 2006) There comes a point in certain musicians' careers where they move from simply being one of many to become a significant or a major artist. This has nothing to do with the number of albums they sell, nor whether they've been signed to a major label, but everything to do with having accumulated a quality body of work that shows progression over a period of time. With the release of her seventh album, Rachael Sage has made an unanswerable case for such elevation.
Rachael Sage's latest album, The Blistering Sun (Mpress Records (USA) R6363-2, 2006), continues to present her stunning musical prowess, personal warmth and expressive vocals. This fifteen track CD combines meaningful lyrics with superb piano accompaniment. Her diverse style emanates throughout and there is an overall upbeat tone to her music. Rachael's talents as a singer/songwriter and talented pianist showcase her expressive pop/rock and sometimes folky style. She received the 2005 Independent Music Award for Best Folk/AAA artist and the 2005 OutMusic Award for Best Songwriter for her previous CD Ballads & Burlesque. Most recently she was invited to be a Judge for the 2006 Outmusic awards.
Rachael has often been compared to Ani Difranco, less perhaps these days for the similarity in their music and more because they've both gone their own way, developed their own labels and thus avoided the pitfalls that seem to befall so many female artists who sign to the majors. And how many of them will record three albums let alone seven? However where Rachael scores over Ani is that she's far more careful about what she releases--there's much of Ani's back catalogue that one can easily ignore, that one is actually better ignoring, and even her best albums contain a number of tracks that a more discerning artist would not have included. This is not a criticism that can be levelled at Rachael Sage.
Rachael's previous offering, Ballads And Burlesques, was a superb collection of songs, one of the best of 2005, but The Blistering Sun is something else again--a stunning musical experience that, literally at times, leaves one grinning inanely in admiration and sheer disbelief that something can be this good.
Everything she tries comes off spectacularly--and she attempts any number of audacious musical somersaults, illusions and high-wire walking. Her arrangements show an imagination that's breathtaking in both scope and ambition, the instrumentation is varied and innovative--oboe, clarinet, cello, trumpet, accordion, strings, woodwind--yet they're used sparingly and judiciously. Nowhere does she succumb to the temptation that many fall to--to swamp the songs, to use things simply because one can and they're there. Here, there's not a note out of place and the musicians seem to understand exactly what she trying to do and play their part to perfection. And throughout, her singing and playing is exemplary.
Listening to The Blistering Sun is to experience an exhilarating musical ride with an artist whom, for the hour or so this disc lasts, seems to have touched heaven. Every song is different and she allows the song to dictate the style, rather than try and force any song into a particular stylistic mould. To select any one track as being better than any other is a past-time for fools.
There is tremendous passion and diversity throughout this collection. Her vibrant style is complemented by some talented musicians. The Blistering Sun features the talents of trumpet player Russ Johnson, drummer Dean Sharp, percussionist Doug Yowell, guitarist Jack Petruzelli, cellist Julia Kent, violinist Allison Cornel, organist Julie Wolf and bassist Todd Sickafoose.
The opening track, "Alright, OK," has a swinging, upbeat melody that is also playful. Rachael's presentation is peppy and almost teasing at times. The song's sassy tone is very catchy. She follows with the dynamic, energy driven "Featherwoman." Her stunning vocals make this song a standout, singing of independence and courageous individuality. Her ethnicity comes through in "93 Maidens" which is the tragic, yet heroic story of Chaya Feldman and her classmates who died rather than submit to the Nazi's requests during World War II. This is an inspiring and passionate tune.
"Wildflower" is another pop melody that has a beguiling beat and great instrumentals. The bluesy ballad "Violet or Blue" has a tender, sensitive feel with Rachael's lovely vocalization. Supported by wonderful percussion, this melody also has fabulous trumpet riffs that are outstanding. The jazz infused "Lonely Streets" has the listener tapping their toes and snapping their fingers to the infectious beat. She has a sultriness that is highlighted here. The lyrics in "Older" begin with quotes from Talmudic text, "If I am not for myself, then who will be for me?" She brings a beautiful simplicity to this tractate of the Mishnah.
The snazzy "Hit Song" is infused with pure jazz instrumentals backing Rachael's captivating spoken word. Her next song, "Burning Witch," continues with her sultry, jazzy vocals. She brings a breathy and carefree feel to this stunning melody and Russ Johnson's trumpet adds to the panache. Piano instrumentals open the insightful "Paperplane" and her elegant style continues with the graceful "Proof."
"Surprise" contains the reference to the title of this album. She seduces the listener with this edgy and expressive song. Rachael has a soft, sensual touch with "Anything, Anywhere." Stunning cello instrumentals bring out the emotive grace of this piece. Her diverse talent is evident with the moody and vibrant "C'mon Over." She ends with the lush "Calypso" with its powerful, poetic lyrics.
The Blistering Sun is a wonderful collection of songs and Rachael Sage's best effort to date. She's right on the money with the piano hooks, expressive musicality and her poignant vocals. Her flamboyant personality shines through her music, enrapturing the listener and leaving them yearning for more. She is a tenacious performer with a marvelous talent, and her passion is worn on her sleeve.
The Blistering Sun is one of those extremely
rare albums that comes as close to musical perfection as it's possible to get. Listen and be amazed.--Jamie Field in Herefordshire, England and Audrey Elliot in New York