Rachael Yamagata, “Tightrope Walker” (Frankenfish/Thirty Tigers)
When tightrope walker Philippe Petit was asked why he did what he did, he replied curtly: “Why — there is no why.”
Rachael Yamagata was floored by his answer, which led the critically-acclaimed singer-songwriter to question her own reason for doing things — and to name her new album for the Frenchman who in 1974 crossed between New York’s twin towers.
Searching for her own purpose, Yamagata turned “Tightrope Walker” into an album about perseverance. It is tonic, she says, for anyone thinking of quitting anything.
“I have fully stepped into my role as healer, optimist, entrepreneur, writer, producer and spirited badass,” says Yamagata. “And that is my ‘why.'”
Clearly confidence is not a problem.
Along with the bad-assery, Yamagata brings a world-weary passion to her singing. Her voice is a soul-baring, sultry instrument that commands center stage at all times. She has that deliberate, I’ll-sing-the-note-when-I’m-ready pacing that helped make Amy Winehouse great, and before her Billie Holliday.
Yamagata can rock, too. She sings with fire on the outstanding jam-band romp, “Let Me Be Your Girl,” her vocals complemented perfectly by edgy guitar and horns. And she stays in command when she slows things down — to a near stop on “Break Apart,” and then again on “I’m Going Back,” both stirring ballads.
Throughout the album, Yamagata sings with the confidence of someone working without a net. And if she’s not quite walking a tightrope herself, she is performing at a very high level.