Like so many other artists in the pandemic, Rachael Sage found herself to be a creative without an outlet. Where Rachael differs though is that she took advantage of the break from live music to turn to poetry which eventually turned into the spoken word album, Poetica, which is due out next week.
Describing Poetica as “both a long time in the making and completely unexpected”, Rachael began recording recording her poems as spoken-word pieces and experimenting with multiple and overlapping voices, engineering herself with minimal gear, originally out of frustration that collaboration with other musicians was no longer possible. Realising that she was essentially producing ‘tracks’ that would go well with music, Rachael then began sending the poems and working on music with her long time cellist Dave Eggar. Add in the talents of Rachael’s long time mix engineer Andy Zulla on Zoom and Poetica was born.
Redolent of Rachael’s trademark breathy vocals and acoustic base, the spoken word element ensures that this album explores what music is in a way that leads the listener on an almost spiritual journey. Beginning with ‘Unconditional’, the rhythm of the accompaniment is matched by the softly spoken, hushed words that compel the listener to actually stop and listen; ‘Passenger‘ and ‘Magenta and Blue’ tread a similar path along the passing of time, with the former track having more steel in the vocals and a more whimsical note in the latter.
Two of the poems with the most resonance for me are where the personal comes to the fore, namely ‘Pulpit‘ and ‘My Father’s Nachus‘, a love letter to a father. Rachael says that
“my poetry is frequently – but definitely not always – personal. Pulpit was written in January 2020, shortly after I played the City Winery in NYC. There had just been an act of violence in the news that inevitably caused me to pause and question how purposeful it is to take the stage, to gather and play or listen to music. ‘A Father’s Nachus’ is a piece about my beloved father, to whom I became much closer in recent years. Under lockdown of course I missed him so much – so I thought it would be meaningful to create a musical version of the poem that really helped take the listener on a journey, like a short film…or like one of the monologue’s in Bruce Springsteen’s Broadway show. I was able to finally play the piece for my Dad on his 80th birthday recently, and needless to say, he was pretty verklempt [overcome with emotion]!“
In the last year when musicians have largely been unable to play live music, the sense of joy and even purpose given to others by musicians has been something that has struck an enormous amount of people – music matters in a way that few other things do.
Although full of dreamy sounds and hushed voices, Poetica is not afraid to venture into a more dramatic arena, such as with ‘Powder’, about the need to be heard, and ‘Days of Awe‘, with edgy guitars and an overall sound that borders on angry vengeance. There are also a couple of tracks that are most akin to a song, ‘Lower East Side Baby‘ with its speakeasy, jazzy vibe and the ballad like ‘Sleep when I’m Tired’, reminiscent of Rachael’s ‘Hanukkah in the Village’. Perhaps Rachel would always have dabbled with spoken word as well as singing – you can see a definite trend towards this in recent albums – but the enforced isolation of the pandemic just made it happen sooner and I’m very glad it did. Poetica is a work that needs space and time in which to listen, it’s definitely an album that works as a whole and hangs together in a very coheseive fashion.
Rachael’s advice for aspiring musicians is from a few years ago but is perhaps now more helpful than ever, given that music is now able to be played live again:
“One of the things that I would really advise is to go out to open mics or intimate performances, just find that safe space where you can keep trying stuff and making mistakes. Perform as often as you possibly can for an audience, however large or small. Give yourself that latitude to keep experimenting, keep trying and pushing yourself without it being necessarily the most professional context. The more leeway you have to figure out who you are and learn how to connect with an audience, those are invaluable lessons. Then when you finally do get to the next level and it’s your own show, you’re touring, you know who you are and it just makes it so much more of a pleasure to be a performer.”
Poetica is released on October 22 on MPress Records. Get your copy xxx
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