Rachel Yamagata gets to the healing of heartache with new two-part album

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 :: Rachel Yamagata ::
:: Bluebird Theater :: November 11 ::

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By Marisa Beahm

For the melancholic who are too choked up to express their own poignant sentiments, Rachael Yamagata’s got their voice. This 31-year-old singer/songwriter expounds insightful, emotionally jarring songs with enough gritty rock influence to keep the music attractive for even the impossibly upbeat.

In early October, the East Coast migrant released her second full-length solo album, called Elephants …Teeth Sinking Into Hearts, and is hitting the road to promote it.

Yamagata, who describes herself as willingly vulnerable and nonjudgmentally truthful, uses her music to express the complexity of human relationships.“The greatest compliment I ever get is that I put (fans’) emotions in ways they couldn’t articulate. It helps them with a healing process,” said Yamagata in a recent interview with The Marquee.

But even with a vast collection of sullen tunes, the introspective artist manages to retain her backbone, even when teetering on the edge of desperation. Her lyrics seem to express many a breakup mantra: it hurts, but I’m better off without you.

While this constant theme seems to resonate throughout the new album, the message takes many forms. It alternates from slow, soft-spoken ballads to quicker, guitar-driven tunes, laced with expletives, all emitted from Yamagata’s alto voice, which seamlessly shifts from raspy to cooing.

Even though Yamagata must dredge up the angst-filed emotions of her songs each time she performs, she said it’s cathartic rather than disheartening. “It helps my mood when I get (the songs) out in the writing process,” Yamagata said. “I don’t have to live them every day.”

Ironically, capturing heartache was not what launched Yamagata’s career — it blossomed out of a more upbeat vein. Yamagata’s first band was Bumpus, a funk-infused band out of Chicago. Yamagata started as a background singer, worked her way up to one of the band’s lead singers and played piano and flute for the group.

Bumpus, which is still together, lost Yamagata when her solo career turned out to be too much of a time commitment. Fans looking for the jamming, jazz and rock influence of Bumpus in Yamagata’s solo work may be disappointed.

Elephants … Teeth Sinking Into Hearts, which is broken into two parts, is full of “heart-wrenching poetic ballads mixed in with pulp fiction and guitar,” described Yamagata, who acknowledged it is very different from Bumpus’ style.

The album name stems from “Elephants,” the partal title track, and is indicative of the first half of the album, which has animal imagery and highlights “the damage we can do to one another,” Yamagata said.

The second half of the album, Teeth sinking Into Heart, invokes a harsh and defiant side, added Yamagata. Its content contains a reclamation of one’s identity amidst heartache.

Only in the latter half of the album does one catch some elements of the more pop-inspired Happenstance, Yamagata’s first full-length release in 2004. Catchy, soulful tunes from that album, such as “Be Your Love” and “Reason Why,” graced many television shows and movies, including “The O.C.” and The Last Kiss.

While Yamagata didn’t stick to Bumpus grooves for her solo career, she did glean an important musical element from her time with the group: a love of touring and an ability to easily collaborate with other musicians.

Yamagata has contributed to the albums of Ryan Adams, Bright Eyes and Mandy Moore. “It’s just always interesting to kind of mix ideas with people and be innovative in a new way,” Yamagata said.

She has also worked with Ray LaMontagne, who performs a duet with Yamagata on the new album, which comes off like a morose lullaby.

Asked to label herself as a musician, Yamagata will pull from many of these collaborations. She is a self-described “female Ryan Adams with a breadth of dynamics, uses Tom Waits-esque percussion, Led Zeppelin guitar and a Rufus Wainright dynamic.”

With diverse collaborations and influences to draw from, Yamagata’s not sure what her next step will be, but it might be time for a lyrical change. “This morning I had a happy lyric go through my head. I wrote it down, because those are rare,” Yamagata said with a laugh.

:: Rachel Yamagata ::
:: Bluebird Theater :: November 11 ::

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