Web Exclusive: Rachel Yamagata

By Colleen Seidel

‘ ‘ ‘ At first glance, Rachael Yamagata seems to have the meekness of a church mouse.’ Short… ‘ ‘ ‘ At first glance, Rachael Yamagata seems to have the meekness of a church mouse.’ Short in stature with long black bangs that almost cover her eyes, her speaking voice is soft, nonintrusive and, oftentimes, apologetic. ‘ ‘ ‘ But then she opens her mouth to sing, and you suddenly realize that this girl ain’t shy when it comes to expression in her music ‘mdash; so much so it easily breaks your heart the first time. Building up for the October 7th release of her long-awaited (by fans, anyway) new album, Elephants . . . Teeth Sinking into Heart, Yamagata and her band played a short set in front of a sparse crowd at Diesel Sunday night. ‘ ‘ ‘ The singer-songwriter proved to be the kind of authentic live musician one would hope she’d be judging from her album work.’ Ranging from soft but piercing a cappella to brutal all-out rock, she displayed a versatile and organic musicianship on stage that is rarely seen by young female musicians these days.’ Yamagata instead eludes the marks of those from generations past: the sexy stage presence of Debbie Harry, the raw vocal stylings of Janis Joplin. ‘ ‘ ‘ Beginning the set with an a capella version of the title track from her new album, Yamagata stood alone on stage with eyes closed as her voice popped off the mic and out of the speakers.’ It was a raw, emotive way to begin the concert ‘- signature of Yamagata’s introspective, extremely personal style. ‘ ‘ ‘ She went solo two more times throughout the night, playing first an acoustic version of a new song, ‘The Only Fault,’ followed by ‘Meet Me by the Water,’ a song from her debut LP, Happenstance.’ Both sultry tunes, one about the end of a relationship the other about a beginning, the songstress took her time, filling them out with dynamic changes in her voice from falsetto to deep strains of bass. ‘ ‘ ‘ It’s nothing if not her pipes that makes Yamagata a striking musician, and that was plenty evident throughout the set.’ The angst-ridden ‘Letter Read’ came across especially potent as Yamagata kept the verses tight before opening up to the palpably painful cry of the chorus: ‘And I’m afraid / and I can’t breathe / and I’m in love with you / but you are not with me.” ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ Other times, with the accompaniment of her band, she pulled and played with her repertoire, bringing fullness and vitality to her songs beyond what is normally captured in her recordings.’ ‘Sunday Afternoon’ ‘mdash; a track that’s floated around the Internet for years and has finally found a home on her upcoming LP ‘mdash; felt stronger with a bluesier style, highlighted by striking rim hits from the drummer and more reverb from the rhythm guitar. ‘ ‘ ‘ New tracks showcasing her guitar playing prowess revealed that Yamagata is a singer-songwriter who can hold her own with a rock song ‘mdash; her and the band didn’t shy away from taking things full force towards the end.’ But she never let things get completely out of control.’ Her signature softness still found its place, and a cello frequently took the lead to bring things back in more mellow tunes like ‘What if I Leave?’ A minor player on the indie scene for the past couple years, Yamagata hasn’t quite hit the mainstream radar yet ‘- which, depending on your point of view, could be a good or bad thing ‘- but it’s a shame more people haven’t heard of this talented singer-songwriter.’ With any luck, her current tour and new album will bring the well-deserved buzz she’s been lacking.’ Buzz or no buzz, in a continually muddling sea of indie-pop clones, she’s an original voice worth listening to.’