Rachael Sage’s Choreographic (2016)
Primary URL: http://rachaelsage.com/
“The quintessential definition of dance, to me, is freedom. We’re in a moment where we realize how precious creative freedom is, and what a gift it is to be able to share it with each other, across all borders and boundaries.” – Rachael Sage
New York-based singer-songwriter, producer, multi-instrumentalist, visual artist and poet Rachael Sage pays tribute to her first love – ballet – with her uplifting twelfth album Choreographic (2016). Sage, who pursued ballet The School of American Ballet and performed with danced with The New York City Ballet before opting for music, describes her recent effort as ‘ballet pop’, and “envisioned each song as a fully-choreographed multi-media experience”.
Her ability to craft soulful, optimistic and thoughtful music that moves you literally and figuratively is unsurprising, given that she’s already achieved 16 song placements on Lifetime TV’s Dance Moms. Sage fans can certainly rejoice in the fact that several dance-centric music videos for the album’s singles are currently in production (Sia and Maddy Ziegler may soon witness some serious competition).
Sage’s vocals consistently ooze effortless, youthful soulfulness across the album’s 12 tracks, as she delivers mature and emotionally intelligent lyrical gems about love, life, the artistic drive, home, youth, adulthood, motherhood and faith. The album is flawlessly backed by accessible and artful piano-based chamber-pop and orchestral elements courtesy of a host of world-class instrumentalists: violinists Rachel Golub (Adele) and Lyris Hung (Indigo Girls), cellist Dave Eggar (A Great Big World), drummer Doug Yowell (Joe Jackson). She is accompanied by guest vocalists Peter Himmelman and Matt Nakoa. The genre-bending album fuses elements from pop, folk and rock, and was co-produced by Sage and Grammy Award winner Andy Zulla, and engineered by Grammy nominee John Shyloski.
Album opener “Heaven (Is A Grocery Clerk)” (inspired by a painting by the late Riki Chen, a homeless artist who Sage befriended) sets the tone for the album, as Sage demands for something to dream, laugh and dance about, and to be set free from ‘this ever-drifting psychedelic kite’ and the feeling that ‘I might never find my place’. The song is a tribute to the enduring creative spirit that stares down various challenges without losing its optimistic buoyancy: ‘Sometimes when I’m feeling lonely/ I pick up a paintbrush/ And I draw circles’.
Sage’s lyrics insist on seeing the glass of life being half full. She attempts to repair a strained relationship with a friend on “Loreena” (‘I don’t want to lose you/ You think that I’ve accused you but I’ve loved you in my time’) and pays tribute to the personal empowerment catalysed by a former lover on “French Doors”: ‘You taught me how to let go/ You taught me how to deconstruct my emptiness’. Love is presented as similarly transcendental on “I Don’t Believe It”, where a ‘moonbeam man’ helps Sage realize that she had been ‘faking [her] happiness’.
“Try Try Try” is an endearing, upbeat song about how compassionate love can widen one’s emotional horizons, while “Home” (an acoustic version of the song closes the album) is a sombre, introspective ballad that examines Sage’s personal relationship to New York City and the aesthetic ambitions it nurtured. Tracks like “Clear Today”, “Learn To Let You Go” and “7 Angels” take on a more melancholic note, but the airy, uplifting instrumentation keeps Sage focused on the silver lining.
On “I Don’t Believe It”, Sage stares down voices who doubt her ability to succeed and metamorphose into a ‘butterfly’. Such doubts have certainly been dispelled by Choreographic, which has every note, lyric and instrumentation refreshingly en pointe.
Review by Gus Xie