[30 October 2008]
Chandelier, the eighth release by prolific New York singer-songwriter Rachael Sage, raises an interesting question: How is it that an album can be so thoroughly well-crafted—that is, so adroitly performed, pleasantly sung, clearly produced and lyrically solid—and still not be all that good? The issue here seems to be less one of talent, which Sage has proven herself to possess over the course of her many recordings (I remain a big fan of her lovely 2003 outing Public Record), than of fire. These songs appear to have all the right ingredients for a captivating folk-pop record but lack the kind of driving passion on the part of their creator that demands they be heard.
Perhaps the issue is one of the circumstances surrounding their creation; true to the Ani DiFranco template of fiercely independent female folkies, Sage releases her records through her own label, MPress, suggesting that, for her, making music is not so much a process of waiting for the right number of the right songs to come out than it is of putting an album out every year or so in order to keep up the business. Like DiFranco again, then, Sage is a clearly gifted artist prone to releasing too much filler, the mild advantage in Sage’s case being that while DiFranco’s inability to edit herself too often leads her towards self-indulgent studio experiments, Sage generally resorts to mining familiar territory of lush, occasionally jazz-tinged, Lilith Fair pop.
If this inevitably winds up producing less inspired versions of her best material, it at least ensures that where Ani DiFranco can be downright unbearable on an off day, Rachael Sage is merely pleasantly dull on hers. Armed, as always, with her nicely clipped vocals and a gentle melodic sensibility that never threatens to lead her songs too far astray even at their most divergent (though Bruce Cockburn-esque beat-jazz piece “Site-Seeing” pushes it), Sage is always agreeable enough company even on an album as disappointingly average as this one.