Rachael Yamagata. RCA Victor.
This powerful debut is a must for those who like the concept of Norah Jones, yet prefer more bite. Yamagata writes classic, piano-based pop in the finest confessional tradition, with rich melodies illuminating poignant tales like "I'll Find a Way" and "Reason Why." But her terrific voice tells another story: Tempered by an apprenticeship on the Chicago funk scene, Yamagata's singing has a raspy, insistent edge that electrifies the material. In the soaring "I Want You," she seems determined to break through the edges of the song; the sunny "1963" could be a feel-good R&B classic. Add pithy lyrics that evoke the everyday grit of relationships -- the longing for a hug, the sight of a lover walking out the door forever -- and Happenstance can feel uncomfortably true to life.