Rachael Yamagata’s “Chesapeake” Album Review

Rachael Yamagata knows heartbreak. You can tell it’s always under her skin and most of her songs emit it. The part Japanese singer-songwriter from Virginia began her solo music career after she fell in love with a band member of a funk band in Chicago, joined the band as the vocalist for several years, and then broke up with him and the band. Her raw and soulful EP, which showed the dark and wrenching during and aftermath of that relationship for her, came out in 2003 when I played it on repeat for months, unable to listen to anything else.

At the time, I was going through my own break-up and Yamagata seemed to sing exactly how I felt. In the last eight years, she’s made three solo albums and sang on the albums of Ray Lamontagne, Ryan Adams and Bright Eyes. Her third full-length solo album “Chesapeake” was just released in October by her own label and financed through Pledge Music donations by fans.

While Yamagata’s first full-length album Happenstance after the EP disappointed me with its over-produced songs, her second album Elephants…Teeth Sinking Into Heart released in 2008 went the other way and was very grave (as the title hints…) and decidedly non-commercial. I could understand it being a hard pill to swallow if you weren’t going through your own love crisis, while listening to the aching instrumentals and her jagged lyrics. I remember standing in the magazine section of a Borders bookstore in Hollywood listening to Yamagata perform live in front of the Bestsellers section, playing the guitar in her low-key manner, one minute surprisingly defiant and the next – sad, and I was completely sucked into that album. If you can, I definitely recommend seeing her live. She just started touring for Chesapeake around the U.S. – I’m hoping that seeing her live again will change my mind about her latest album, which I like but don’t love.

Chesapeake starts out a bit ho-hum and reminiscent of Happenstance, and then gets better beginning with the third song, “Saturday Morning”, my favorite on the album. The song seems to be a departure and natural progression from all of the longing and angst-ridden breakup ballads that she has released, and I’m glad to hear it. The song is about the beginning of a promising relationship, the morning after when things are still fresh and “…all of the days of the week have come down to this, just kiss me and we’ll be ok…” It’s a sweet little song, but never gets syrupy because of Yamagata’s low smoky voice which has been compared to Janis Joplin and Fiona Apple. Other songs that I like on the album are the bluesy “Stick Around,” mellow road-trip tune “Miles On a Car” and honest lyrics and repetitive melody of “Full On.” Maybe, as a friend once told me, “sadness is just so much more potent than happiness,” but it’s good to hear Yamagata hopeful once in a while, too.

[Photo courtesy of Laura Crosta]

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About Janice

Janice Luo is pursuing her MFA in Creative Writing at Antioch University. She is originally from Northern California and seems to be locked in a love/hate relationship with Los Angeles, the city in which she lives.
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