The title of Rachael Yamagata’s fourth studio album is named after French high-wire artist Phillippe Petit. But that namesake might as well have been a figurative interpretation of the 32-year-old’s musical trajectory.
After all, here’s a singer-songwriter who has aimed for great heights in her nondescript artistry, without any considerations for any failproof measures.
Solid debut Happenstance propped her up as an indie darling with a penchant for sorrowful heartbreak anthems at a time when TV shows catapulted the careers of virtually unknown coffee shop singers into the radio.
Over a decade later, Yamagata is only at her fourth full-length album; and for better or worse – at the age of 39 – still bubbling under.
But if Tightrope Walker proves anything, it would be that Yamagata doesn’t care much for mass appeal.
The opening title track is a sparse offering that unravels at an unhurried pace. Over sporadic drum beats, she sings with the confidence of someone who hasn’t got anything to lose.
That attitude is evident in the way she flirts with the notes, letting her soul-baring voice intertwine with the instruments at her own deliciously slow pace.
The album doesn’t really have the immediate iconic quality of her fine debut, neither is it as experimental as artsy sophomore Elephants… Teeth Sinking Into Heart, or nearly as buoyant as third album Chesapeake.
Her latest balances between the unassuming grandeur of adult-oriented rock (the dark and sensuous lead single Nobody) and occasional bursts of light narratives (the endearing Saturday morning anthem Let Me Be Your Girl).
But Tightrope Walker is still very much, a Rachael Yamagata album: Husky cigarettes-grazed vocals, gentle touches of the piano, poignant melodies and words that linger heavily with yearning.
Those are all trademarks that are invariably present on ballads like the achingly fragile Break Apart and languorously lush I’m Going Back. Although, there are nothing quite as epic as the nine-minute-long Sunday Afternoon or emotionally raw as Duet.
Then again, the songstress is in a league of her own. Nobody does lovelorn anguish the way Yamagata does. With that kind of accolade, does it really matter that she’s past pop prime?