On her first album in three years, Rachael Yamagata explores the contours of happiness and the confines of optimism. Sure, Chesapeake still features the sultry rasp of the Arlington, Virginia-born singer/songwriter, but there’s a decided difference in tone that may spring from a fountain of positivity—or a sudden recognition that the hopefulness was always there to begin with.
The layers of life and love have long given songwriters meat for their bones. A bad relationship can provoke some of the most malicious thoughts in all of humankind, while a good relationship can make rapture seem insufficient.
With Chesapeake, “it’s a little love.”
As my pal Donald Gibson discovered, Yamagata’s nature is that of “extreme” optimism and hopefulness. The “unhappy” songs of past records, then, came out of an interest in darker pursuits. This makes sense on multiple levels because, let’s face it, there’s certain monotony in uninhibited glee. Those merry couples, complete with stomach-churning epithets, don’t make for interesting television.
With the slight shift in creative difference, rest assured that Yamagata doesn’t drop pet names or start cooing nonsensically to an invisible lover from the big city. Her concern largely appears to be with how marvelously lucky it can be to have found the right relational fit. The positivity isn’t gushing.
Consider “You Won’t Let Me.” Here, Yamagata sings over piano about showing someone how to laugh. “Nothing heavy, nothing serious,” she offers. “Just forget about all that.”
From the beautiful yearning of wanting to give it one more try to the gorgeous sparkle of the funky-sweet “Starlight,” Chesapeake is an ebullient record but not an intolerable one. Yamagata’s observations are cute without being cutesy, and sultry without being silly.
More hip sway tugs at “Miles on a Car.” Yamagata’s vocal sensitivities are alluring, with soft, low whispers elegantly offset by a glassy trip up the scale.
An album about love, especially an album about the addiction of love, can easily slip into cheesy territory. With Chesapeake, however, Yamagata’s honesty (“Full On”) proves intoxicating and her joyfulness (“Saturday Morning”) is addicting. Thanks to well-crafted songs and a voice to die for, her latest is delicious optimism.