In 2018, Rachael Sage was diagnosed with endometrial (uterine) cancer. After revealing her diagnosis, her song “Bravery’s on Fire” became an anthem for the era, with 100% of single sales benefiting women’s cancer research. Jump forward to early 2020, and the singer-songwriter is reflecting on these times with a cover song. Sage explains, “‘Both Hands’ was the very first song I ever heard by Ani DiFranco, at a bookstore in San Francisco, while I was in college—so it’s been an earworm in my head for decades. While I don’t typically do covers, it was one of the first tunes to find its way back to my fingers on the guitar during my cancer recovery.”
It’s a fresh take on DiFranco’s 1990 cut, offered a buoyant spring to its step through a string quartet arrangement. With a hopefulness tinging her vocals, Sage’s version maintains a healing optimism between grounded, bittersweet meditations. In her live rendition recorded at Carriage House Studios, one is able to see the effervescence with which Sage approaches the cover. It fits well into the overarching work of her new album, Character, due out on 6 March via MPress—all the more so since Sage’s first-ever tour was as DiFranco’s opening act.
Sage continues, “It was on a playlist I had of empowering songs that helped me feel better, while I was receiving my treatment. A few months later, I had the idea to record it with a string quartet, in the vein of one of my favorite albums, The Juliet Letters by Elvis Costello. The song itself is very bittersweet, reflecting on a relationship that seems to be impossible, but where there continues to be an intense passion that feels sacred and indelible. I have certainly experienced those dynamics in my life, to the point where when I went to sing these lyrics, it truly felt like it was my personal story.”
“Great songs have that kind of power, and it was a comfort to have Ani’s beautiful words to help express all of the emotions I was feeling at the time. What I also love about the music is that it feels like a train that never slows down. So there’s a kind of kinetic rhythm to it which propels the story forward to its inevitable conclusion, which is definitely how I felt during the past year, with respect to certain changes I’ve made in my life, that have ultimately allowed me to heal.”