Rachael Sage – The Blistering Sun (2006)

Posted by on August 10, 2016as

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Blistering Sun is, astonishingly, Rachael Sage’s seventh studio offering. While she entered the scene with a fine array of skills, classical piano training, a head full of pop songwriters who influenced her, and a fantastic sense of time and phrase, this Port Chester, NY, native has finally come into her own with a set of songs that is bright, airy, economical, and full of fine hooks and textures. As on her past offerings, she has surrounded herself with a crack unit of studio musicians, including (to mention just a few) Julia Kent and Julie Wolf on cello and organ, respectively; Todd Sickafoose on bass; alternately Jack Petruzelli or Ben Butler on guitar; and trumpeter Russ Johnson. Sage handles the keyboard chores for herself and is a fine vocalist. But it is her keen ironic sense of humor and quirky sense of the profound being visible in any moment that make her special as a songwriter. This time out, one can hear the influence of Magazine-era Rickie Lee Jones in her work, but that’s fine. Sage’s phrasing is her own, and so is her writing. Slippery little pop flourishes underscore her restrained yet somehow passionate vocals — check out “Featherwoman” for an example. But then there are the gauzy Eastern European accordions in “93 Maidens,” and the song’s poignant lyric based on the letters of Chaya Feldman from her time spent in the camps of Poland during the Second World War. The horns on “Wildflower,” with its wah-wah guitar and organ flourishes, give the tune a shuffling feel as Sage’s lyric pops through the middle. The ballad “Older” is a bit of a toss-away and could have been done by any one of her increasingly anonymous peers — Morissette, McLachlan, etc. — but Sage’s words are stronger and more focused than both of them put together. In “Paperplane,” the dramatic piano arpeggios underscore her voice — with its taut desperation — as the expressionist trumpet asserts itself in the verse and the violin and entire horn section find their way into the knotty lyric lines. “C’mon Over” is an ironic, sexy little cut about a woman who needs to prod her lover and show him what’s possible. The crescendos, with the horns blaring like a drunk mariachi band, and rockist refrains work like a charm; this may be the album’s strongest cut overall. But then, Blistering Sun is as strong as Sage has ever been. Now, if only somebody would sit up and take notice. Pop music isn’t crafted as carefully and expertly as this anymore and Sage is the stitch between the great rock and pop traditions of the past and what those traditions have wrought — albeit almost invisibly — in the hypermodern world of the present. Highly recommended.

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