By Al Kaufman
Rachael Sage is a pop goddess. Equal parts chutzpah and glamour, her songs are glittery and shiny, but carry enough weight that they never never fly away. She’s constantly in fishnets of some sort, but she’s smart enough to start up and maintain her own record company. Because she’s Jewish, creative, and plays piano, she is often compared to Regina Spektor, but while Spektor often seems in need of some good counseling or medication, Sage seems more like someone who would tell great stories at a party. Find a group of people who are smiling and look enraptured, and chances are Sage will be in the middle of them.
Delancey St, her ninth CD, is typical Sage. In it she sings of her old New York stomping grounds. She is introspective and autobiographical without seeming maudlin and egocentric. She sings of a girl with big dreams, a girl who falls in and out of love, and of a neighborhood that holds her in check. It’s a theme album of sorts, but not in the heavy-handed, Lou Reed kind of way. Maybe it’s her positive outlook, or gorgeous voice, or her twinkling piano, but even when she’s kvetching it sounds pretty.
As with past albums, her use of horns and strings gives some of the songs a jazzy, film-noir feel. “Back to Earth” sounds like something that should be playing in the background of a Bogart and Bergman film. It should be playing while Bergman, in the rain, looks back over her shoulder to a slumping Bogie who slowly fades away; cigarette dangling from his lips. The song dips and swells magnificently. “Big Star,” the first single, is the true standout. In front of a day-glo melody, she talks of the trapping of fame. She warns, “You gotta fight your enemies/You gotta fight friends/ You gotta fight depression when the whole shit ends.” Yet it’s told so cheerfully it’s too bad the Spears and Lohans of the world did not heed her advice. It is one of the few truly upbeat songs on the CD. Most of the rest of the CD is composed of piano driven, mid-tempo ballads. Upon first listen, they seem to blend into each other, but upon repeated listens their subtleties come forth.
“Meet Me in Vegas” is the story of a girl who thinks going to see Cirque de Soleil and Elton John’s Red Piano with her lover will give some meaning to her otherwise boring existence. It’s a story that been told a few million times before in pop songs, but but never with such a beautiful piano/guitar combination, and never with a voice as captivating as Sage’s.
While her cover of Hall and Oates’ “Rich Girl” falls flat, her bonus cut, “Fame,” is perfect. Closing out the CD, she slows down the anthem of Glee fans everywhere, so that it sounds like she’s a young girl dreaming of her future while laying on her bed and singing to her ceiling. Instead of boasting and bragging, she sounds like someone trying to convince herself that she has what it takes to make it.
Rachael Sage has what it takes, and those nights in her Lower East Side apartment when she dreamed of making it big have really paid off.