Rachael Sage,
Ballads & Burlesque
(Mpress, 2004)

Fans of singer-songwriters are a picky lot, and their tastes run a wild gambit from earthy-granola Joan Baez fare to a Kate Bush style of pop-laced internal ruminations. I pick these two poles on purpose, because fans of either one will keep Ballads & Burlesque permanently in their CD player. Once you hear Rachael Sage's multi-colored musical influences and richly crafted lyrics, you'll be lucky to even get the stereo turned off. Yes, it's that good.

The music is beautiful, of course, but that's not the source of Ballads & Burlesque's hypnotic pull. Sage's unique style -- Lillith-Fair sensibilities, water-painted with jazz, gospel and pop -- isn't the main draw, either. Those important things will get her on "Music for the Workplace" and "Alternative-Lite" FM radio, and certainly her songs would improve the fare those types of stations typically offer. But Sage moves beyond those countries and into the land of the gifted with one dizzying talent.

Pop musicians may argue otherwise, but folk musicians know that lyrics are the heart of a lasting song. Moving lyrics are what keeps someone sitting in the driveway with melting ice-cream in the backseat, or make them miss their homeward train stop on a Friday evening commute. Rachael Sage knows how to write those kinds of songs, and, even better, she writes them for an audience whose emotions have aged into rich complexities. Sage talks about deep and subtle things -- a woman's unsettling attraction to her best female friend, the bittersweet taste of lost childhood love, the hard-work aspect of an unstable relationship -- and somehow manages to convey these feelings in an accessible way that leaves you changed and uplifted, even when you feel your heart crack with empathy. And here's how she does it:

"Jane's Dimitri" -- Regret is like arthritis/gripping wisdom by the joint/you're gasping and your drowning/while Love's sharpening her point.

"Why Not Love" -- Why not love/if you have the option/why not offer/everything you're wanting from me.

"Even Love Dies" -- Secretly you give me/the keys to your garden/where the sweetest tequila/runs wild from a stream.

Every song on Ballads & Burlesque has a gem like these, words so moving and so movingly sung, feelings so close to your own secrets, that the songs run through your head throughout your day. And, yes, keep you in your car and make you late for work and touch you. And keep her CD in pristine condition, since it never leaves your stereo long enough to get scratched.

- Rambles
written by Tracie Vida
published 18 June 2005

[ visit the artist's website ]

Buy it from Amazon.com.