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Rachael Yamagata

The Texas man, Joe, is back (you should be suspicious of any post that mentions disappointment at a lack of country, it's not Kate):

Before I'd heard anything off of Rachael Yamagata's 2004 debut, Happenstance, I was convinced of two things: it had to be good, and it had to be country. After all, the first song I'd ever heard her sing was "Fireflies," a country duet with Rhett Miller (frontman for the Old 97's), and when I found out that she sang with Ryan Adams on Cold Roses and Bright Eyes on Cassadaga, I had no more doubts.

Here are some samples:
Rhett Miller - Fireflies (you must download this one)
Ryan Adams & The Cardinals - Let It Ride
Bright Eyes - Hot Knives

Buy The Believer
Buy Cold Roses
Buy Cassadaga

I got around to buying Happenstance last week, and I was very excited to own it at last. How could it go wrong?'s how.

Fortunately, this song is not representative of the album. Unfortunately, it is a symptom of what plagues the disc. The songs are inconsistent and never find a voice of their own, content to sound like other artists. From the shallow pop of "Worn Me Down" to the coffee-shop-generic of "Be Be Your Love" to the Madeleine-Peyroux-esque jazz-lounge "I Want You," the only constants are the jazzy piano, a tendency to repeat words and lines ("Everybody's talking how I can't can't be be your love/ but I want want want to be your love/ want to be your love for real"), and Ms. Yamagata's wonderful voice.

And yes, I am very disappointed that the disc exhibits no elements of country. She's got such a great voice for's a real shame.

In the end, the songs may lack a compelling style of their own, but Ms. Yamagata has a voice to die for, and with 14 tracks, Happenstance does hide a few gems: "Letter Read," "1963," and "I Want You" are all very good. All of this is to say that you should be looking forward to her second album, which is currently in the works (slated for later this year), and hope that it can overcome these weaknesses.

Rachael Yamagata - I Want You
Rachael Yamagata - 1963

Bonus "Let's Pretend Like It's The 60's!":
Compare "1963" to:
Gladys Knight & The Pips - I Heard It Through The Grapevine
...or maybe, from the 70's, this one...

Buy Happenstance

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9 Responses to “Rachael Yamagata”

  1. # Blogger Grace

    I do like Rachael, but when I listened to a Fiona Apple CD, I realized how simple RY's lyrics were compared to Apple's. Just a totally different style I suppose. I've seen Rachael in concert too back in 2005, but she opened for Ray LaMontagne at the time and played all of about 6 songs but I couldn't have expected more from an opening act.  

  2. # Blogger Joe M.

    I haven't ever heard Apple, but yes, Ms. Yamagata's lyrics could use some help.

    But what a voice! I don't care if she never records an all-around great song--I've got "Fireflies." (Rhett Miller and the Old 97's are awesome. But that's a different post)  

  3. # Blogger Grace

    I don't know if you've seen the video for "Fireflies" or not. Here is the link:  

  4. # Blogger Joe M.

    ooh, no I haven't. Thanks!  

  5. # Blogger Joe M.

    that video is perfect for the album. Which reminds me--The Believer is awesome. You should buy it if you don't already own it! I'm going back to listen to it another three or four times now...

    (sorry Kate, Belle & Sebastian will have to wait!)

    Just wait 'til '08. Between the Olds, they've got 4 records coming out: Rhett's got a third solo album plus an album of covers, Murray's releasing his first solo album (which will be awesome), and the Olds have their follow-up to Drag It Up.

    It will be a very, very good year.  

  6. # Blogger Ryan of the RSL blog

    Nice Review.  

  7. # Blogger Aaron

    I would definitely agree that Happenstance is not a true show of her ability.

    Her live performances, for one, is much smoother in terms of integration of songs and styles.

    Her first EP was rather good in my opinion, at least better than Happenstance.

    All I can hope for, is that the new album would be great.  

  8. # Anonymous Anonymous

    i agree that Happenstance wasn't exactly the best display of rachael's talent. however, i disagree - i think rach's lyrics are thoughtful. yes, some are repetitive and sometimes a little trite, but overall rach is a force to be reckoned with. she said the new album was going to very different from Happenstance and i found out it is going to released at year's end or the beginning of next year.

    but definitely check her out when she comes to your town - the live shows are a better representation of RY.  

  9. # Anonymous Sarah Moffett

    Tuesday night at the Birchmere (Alexandria, Virginia), I saw Rachael Yamagata for the first time. I’m in love. And so was everyone else that was there for her performance. Her relaxed manner, easy banter, and approachable rapport, played the perfect transition to her smoky voice as she levitated the audience through her new material and reminded us of her old. She was that good.

    Her new album looks like its going to answer all the questions you may have from Happenstance.  

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