Album review: RACHAEL YAMAGATA – Tightrope Walker

RACHAEL YAMAGATA - Tightrope Walker

Frankenfish Records [Release date 04.11.16]

Virginia based singer-songwriter Rachael Yamagata’s 4th studio album, to be supported by US and European tour dates, is something of a departure on a number of levels.

Inspired by the ‘there is no why’ philosophy of Philippe Petit – the French high-wire artist famed for tightrope walking between the World Trade Centre Twin Towers in 1974, Yamagata dispersed with her usual process of narrowing down of around 200 songs, instead, focusing on just 15, repeatedly editing and reworking to find the right musical expression for each song, before whittling them down to a perfect 10.

Featuring a host of musicians, including 5 Grammy winners, and an eclectic array of instrumentation including saxophones, mandolins, rain recorded on an iPhone, French spoken word, metallic ironing boards and ladder drums, myriad harmonies and loops, the gestation of Tightrope Walker also saw Yamagata become a mother, a self-manager and producer.

The opening title track – an observational take on Petit’s remarkable feat – delivered with fluttering heart vocals over an atmospherically percussive backbeat takes the listener to a higher place, dripping with tension.

In a sometimes experimental set, Yamagata also manages to neatly straddle mainstream appeal, ‘Nobody’ builds to a sensual climax with breathy bedtime vocals, sultry pulsing keyboard beat, and off kilter guitar lines, while ‘Over’ is more Annie Lennox terrain.  ‘Let Me Be Your Girl’ visits classic Isley Brothers territory and could easily be a smash hit, and the reflective ‘Break Apart’ bleeds like a pierced heart.

Without question, Yamagata’s most intimate, and personal album to date, ‘Money Fame Thunder’ closes the set by neatly analogising traversing the travails of life with tightrope walking.  It’s nice to see an artist take a few chances without taking a tumble.  ****

Review by Pete Whalley


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