was wrong. Yes, me, a member of that seemingly unassailable group of lovable characters known as “music critics,” has erred. It’s not often that we make mistakes in our long and tireless quest to enlighten the scavenging proles to “good music,” but once, maybe twice, a year, we do. One of these rare cases occurred recently when I self-assuredly declared that Rachael Yamagata’s music was “destined for silver-screen romances and nothing more,” and that her “lackluster tales of woe” would fail to ignite a group of steadfast trailers known as a “fan base.”
After first realizing my many counts of error in regard to Yamagata, I, of course, first sought repentance from God through a long string of priests at the local Cathedral. An hour, a bucket of tears, three broken loaves of bread, and a square metallic cage indentation on my left cheek later, my now ten man strong council recommended that I formally apologize to my wayward readers and to Yamagata through a letter. I have taken their advice to heart.
I should begin by apologizing for in any way tarnishing Yamagata’s name in any way with my less than positive review of her debut EP. While I stand by my overall review and rating (5.5), I don’t stand by my presumptuous bile towards Yamagata. After hearing her new debut LP, Happenstance, I feel wholeheartedly penitent for ever calling her “just another female singer/songwriter....who struts and sways as she tickles those lucky ivories.”
On Happenstance, Yamagata displays that she is no heir to the throne of Amos or Apple, but that she is the natural progression in a long line of female singer/songwriters--wearing her influences on her sleeve and unafraid of accessibility and radio friendliness. “Worn Me Down,” the single that appeared in an inferior form on the EP is re-recorded and re-arranged completely—to amazing effect. With some edgier guitar work by Kevin Salem and punchier, live sounding drums, along with Ms. Yamagata’s much more emotional, almost anthemic vocal, it’s100% better than the original.
On “Letter Read” and “Under My Skin” (the latter which has one of the most anthemic piano-based choruses you’ll hear this year) we hear her growling (in her trademark fashion), but what she does best, and what she is known for, is her rain-on-glass ballads. “I’ll Find a Way” moves with a genteel grace and lyrical honesty, with an arrangement too perfect for words. Each instrument from the swelling and ebbing strings to the precisely timed percussion, to Yamagata’s plinking ivories and her coos in the verses, add up to unabashed orchestrated pop which so desperately needs to be heard on the radio.
Similarly, “Meet Me By the Water,” is turned from a basic acoustic guitar lead of moonlit romance into a dense, pedal-steel tinged romp. It’s not all rain-tattered piano ballads, though. On the wonderfully energetic, almost carnivalesque, “Paper Doll” we find Yamagata at her most catchy, powerfully purring out a melting melody.
Ms. Yamagata has moved beyond the slightly jazzy overtones of her debut EP to grandiose, ready-for-radio singer/songwriter pop for the ages. I have said my Hail Marys and paid my indulgences, now help me in my quest for salvation by not ignoring this record.
Reviewed by: Gentry Boeckel
Reviewed on: 2004-06-11