Elevate Difference

Delancey Street

On her ninth record, Delancey Street, Rachael Sage once again embraces and pushes the boundaries of her signature sound: lush piano-based pop with plenty of passion and insightful lyrics. Each song tells a distinct story, capturing a moment in time (even if the meanings are sometimes ambiguous).

The enigmatic “Everything Was Red” is one of my favorite tracks, although I’d be hard pressed to tell you what it’s about. “I was just a girl / who fell in love with Judy / Everything was red / It was never just her shoes,” Sage sings. Okay, red shoes and Judy: is she alluding to Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz? However, the rest of the song is about a deep and possibly codependent relationship, with the narrator selflessly trying to be everything her friend needs. “I’m willing to begin anew / I’m willing to be a sister to you/ I’m willing to be the wiser one.” The virtue of a great Rachael Sage song, though, is that you can enjoy the melody and wordplay without knowing the exact meaning of the words.

Sage has a tongue-in-cheek song on most of her albums, and this disc’s entry, “Big Star,” doesn’t disappoint. “Do you wanna be a big star? / It’s okay to say yes, yes, yes, yes, yes,” she chant/sings, then goes on to list what is expected of a pop star in terms of appearance and behavior: “You gotta stay skinny / You gotta grow tall / You gotta fight your enemies / You gotta fight friends / You gotta fight depression when the whole shit ends.” The song boasts strong syncopation, guitar with reverb (rather unusual for Sage as her music is usually centered around the piano), drawn-out vocals, and a touch of organ, making it a musical standout in this collection.

The slow, twangy guitar that opens “Meet Me in Vegas” lends it a country feel, and Sage employs breathy, high, and languorous vocals on a song about yearning to save a relationship that appears to be nearing its end. Strings augment the feeling. “Back to Earth” is the troubling tale of a friend who has metaphorically disappeared. The source of the friend’s remoteness is unclear (depression? a cult or new group of friends?), but the helpless frustration of the friend left behind is clear.

“Arrow” starts with Sage’s trademark scatting and features prominent horns and soaring strings. It’s a rebuke to those who would prescribe the requirements for an artist’s life. Despite her anger at those who try to dictate the way she should live, the song is upbeat and has joyous lyrics with vocals alternating between soft on the refrain and loud and almost strident on verses.

The album features two covers, the Hall & Oates hit “Rich Girl” and Irene Cara's film theme “Fame.” It’s a revelation to see how another artist’s interpretation can change the implied meaning of a song, and Sage makes both tracks her own. The difference is most apparent on “Fame,” which she transforms into a slow, torchy ballad that barely resembles the original.

For fans, Delancey Street delivers the great musicianship and creative lyrics we’ve come to expect from Sage along with a couple surprises. For those new to her music, it’s a great place to jump in and start exploring.

Written by: Karen Duda, June 8th 2010