Rachael Sage – Choreographic
Singer/songwriter Racheal Sage’s new release, Coreographic, presents a grouping of diverse songs, all connected by her poetic writing and light, airy vocals, but expansive in instrumentation and style. Working with producer Andy Zulla, Sage brings a more chamber approach to her previously instrumentally-conservative discography, but retains her familiar pop-infused piano and guitar led sound. The result is a lush, full framework for a set of (mostly) feel-good songs. Racheal Sage describes the album on her website as returning to her roots in dance, and the personal, passionate character of this approach is felt throughout.
Strings and winds tip off the orchestral nature of the album right at the outset, filling out Sage’s unapologetically poppy piano. Lyrically our heads are high up in the clouds for the opening track, Heaven (is a Grocery Store Clerk). Phrases such as “…let go of this ever drifting psychedelic kite” (later a psychedelic night, and knife) mark the almost overbearing poetic imagery that marks this song’s character. A personal moment of artistic adventuring is whispered over an out of place electric guitar funk groove in the bridge. An accordion drops in for the last few seconds to close out the song in a harmonically far off land. I get the sense that this song really captures Racheal Sage’s identity and is a very personal lyric to her, for me…it failed to capture my attention at the top of the album.
I was quickly rebuked from my disinterest with Loreena and Try Try Try. Both reveal a seasoned songwriter and recording artist. Loreena draws the listener in with a folksy, feel-good groove. The good feelings betray the somewhat complicated relationship the lyrics depict, angsty (but great) lines like “I’m committed as a crime” give an edge to the light musical character. The winding melodic line around “you think that I’ve accused you but I’ve loved you in my time” evokes the endearing poppy good feelings of Fun.’s The Gambler.
Try Try Try, while completely different in character, also puts Racheal Sage on par with another artist: this track is reminiscent of the bright indie pop of Ingrid Michaelson. I momentarily thought that rhyming “try try try” with “goodbye bye bye” was a bit trite, but the scheme was not used again, which made it work. A tiny amount of rocky distorted guitar and a bit of organ give great texture to the hip syncopated rhythmic feel of the track; a great bridge and breakdown bring us back to a high-energy final chorus and outro.
I Don’t Believe It is an important moment in the album: this is Sage’s fist-pumping moment of self-affirmation, alla Taylor Swift’s Shake it Off. A rolling drum beat and some out of character harmonic material back her confident believe-in-yourself lyrics. Putting aside the odd whispered drum beat at the top of the track, the song is driving and energetic. If her somewhat flighty, mystical nature leaves the listener unsure during the opening track, this track shouts that Racheal Sage is wholly confident in who she is as a person and artist, whether you like it or not.
The high-energy positivity that dominated the beginning of the album retreats as the album progresses with some classic ballads like Home (Where I Am Now), French Doors, and Learn to Let You Go. French Doors brings a tinge of blues and gospel, complete with a chill trumpet solo mid track and in the outro. Home has a nice acoustic bonus track with guest folk musician Matt Nakoa.
Five Alarms pushes the boundaries of the orchestral character of the album with adventurous string parts, marimba, and a host of other instrumental sounds. 7 Angels inverts this approach with a quiet acoustic guitar, minimal strings and barely a whisper of accordion. Sage and guest Peter Himmelman tenderly sing emotionally fragile lyrics over this small but lush accompaniment.
The later part of the album isn’t exclusively ballads. I’ve Been Waiting is a sassier track with a laid back groove and funky lead guitar. Clear Today is bright and happy with poppy drums and an acoustic guitar and glockenspiel that give it a folksy vibe. The album closes with a cover of Carol King’s So Far Away in the same chill and funky style of I’ve Been Waiting.
Choreographic rounds out to a really solid release, featuring a diverse grouping of well-written songs nicely filled out with a wide collection of chamber instruments and interesting arranging. The somewhat flighty and over-poppy first track belies the much richer material later in the album. Racheal Sage isn’t shy about herself, her life and her art, weaving passion and experience into every track of this album.