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.

  • Jon Young is a contributing writer for Mother Jones. For more of his stories, click here.

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