Rachael Yamagata’s Third Album, “Chesapeake,” a Genre-Mixing Success

Robert Starr

 Give a pretty girl a guitar and tell her sing to about heartache, and that seems like all you need to make a solid pop album. Or at least it seems that easy when that girl is Rachael Yamagata. Her latest album, Chesapeake, is a collection of all the usual pop staples about the lovesick blues and the moments that make the struggle worthwhile. Although it doesn’t break any new ground, it’s good enough that it doesn’t need to.

Reunited with John Alagía, who produced her first record, Happenstance, Yamagata offers 10 songs, each with a different enough sound to keep the album from becoming monotonous. While a song such as “Starlight” might fit in on a Muse record with its distorted guitar sound, it’s immediately followed by a syncopated Jack Johnson-esque rhythm guitar in “Saturday Morning,” and later on in the album, we get “Stick Around,” which has a Norah Jones bare-bones jazzy feel to it.

We refer to this genre-juxtaposition as “pop music,” and it has the danger of alienating listeners if the songs are too different. However, Yamagata’s voice and introspective lyrics give the songs a sense of semblance, so even as the album jumps around the record store, there’s still a feeling of cohesiveness that it all belongs together.

The highlight of the record is “The Way It Seems to Go,” which is catchy and has a sound that perhaps can be described as industrial country, but that doesn’t quite do it justice. The song’s protagonist describes herself as one who would “take tragedy over a fairy tale” and is “an expert of the silver lining.” The upbeat tempo and major chords seem to suggest someone who embraces tragedy but in a very playful tone.

And though some tracks are more exciting than others, there’s not a dud in the bunch. Chesapeake is more of an album than just a collection of songs, begging to be listened to in its entirety. In terms of the individual tracks, nothing matches “Worn Me Down” from her first album, but this third offering provides a more consistent experience than Yamagata’s previous two.

Still, it’s unlikely that Chesapeake will be her breakout album. Yamagata has existed under the radar for a few years, scoring a bit of radio play with Happenstance along with appearing on albums by Rhett Miller and Bright Eyes and even showing up in an episode of “30 Rock.” However, she’s far from a household name. Still, being where she is in her career, she can make an album like this one, in which she doesn’t need to conform to any specific genre. Fame may bring in the big bucks, but if freedom creates an album like this, it’s nothing to frown upon.