The ever prolific New Yorker Rachael Sage releases her latest album, Character, this week. Written in the wake of a life-changing cancer diagnosis, treatment and recovery period, Rachael Sage was forced to ask herself, “what comprises character?” Character is a deeply personal work, with themes including bravery, gratitude, compassion, authenticity and optimism – all accompanied by Rachael’s trademark breathy vocals, and lyrical melodies on guitar and piano.
The opening track ‘Blue Sky Days’ starts us off looking at gratitude in the wake of cancer treatment. The lyrics come tumbling from a melody that matches the words in spilling out of into an outpouring of gratitude that Rachael is alive. It sets the tone for the album as a whole, a wide-eyed look at the world anew, with a newfound reverence for music as a tool for healing. However, it is the second song, ‘Bravery’s on Fire‘ that is the outstanding track for me, describing the reality that many cancer survivors and sufferers face – battling and surviving cancer is not a walk in the park and does not mean you’re a superhero every day.
I don’t see a superhero when I look in the mirror / I’m just a person struggling in her skin / So sick of pretending my courage is unending
These lyrics are profoundly inspiring, not just to those with cancer but with any serious illness. You won’t feel like a superhero every day and you will be scared…and that’s ok.
The song began with an exploration of what courage means. Rachael realised the concept of courage and resilience in the face of one’s internal struggles is universal and decided to make it her first recording following her recovery. One hundred percent of the profits from this song continue to benefit Women’s Cancer Research. “The song is about finding the courage to admit one’s own vulnerability and fragility – which can be very challenging for anyone, let alone a performer, to embrace.”
‘Damaged‘ is a track with a sounds that diverges from Rachael’s norm. There is a mellow, soul, jazz vibe to the song that contrasts with the lyrics that are asking
I should have asked, just how damaged are you? / When it began you treated me like a queen
The juxtaposition of the sound and lyrics leads to somewhat of a mystery – whom is Rachael addressing? Is it a person, herself, or even the disease itself. The answer is not the point, just the thought processes and introspection that follow.
The importance of a support network for anyone with illness of any sort is explored in ‘Open the Door‘, the title track ‘Character‘ and ‘Be the Same‘.
So happy to see you my friend, you’re like a rainbow coming around the bend
The upbeat tempo of this trio of songs reminds us of the strength of character needed to wake up every day and continue with life when ill and that the love and support of those around you can make so much difference to the mental health issues illness brings. As ‘Be the Same‘ says, “it’s the comfort after the years of too much rain.”
Character is a remarkable collection of songs written in the aftermath of a private and personal challenge that had to be faced. Regarding her recovery, Rachael explains, “it was the most humbling and challenging mountain I’ve ever had to climb…” Thank you for sharing that mountain with us.
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