Rachael Yamagata + Brandon Jenner, Islington Assembly Halls, London 21st November 2017

“Oh, you need to get up here” says Rachael Yamagata. The young man in middle of the sixth row needs no more encouragement as he skips out of his seat nimbly and bounds up on to the high stage to join her on Let Me Be Your Girl, arguably her most commercial and instantly catchy song to date. Think Al Green’s Sha-La-La, or Barbara Acklin’s Am I the Same Girl? and you get a flavour of this.

In contrast, the set had started some ninety minutes earlier with Has it Happened Yet strummed simply on acoustic with the bitter sweetness of a Gretchen Peters ballad. It came with a forewarning to the Islington crowd that they were in for some melancholy, heartbreak, break-up stuff and to stay clear of sharp objects. This was a common thread in her between-songs chat, but she couldn’t be further from the truth. What she delivered was a series of mainly piano based soulful love songs, that, when they did tread into despair, saw her voice rise and crack evocatively rendering them all the more gutsy.

She teasingly attributes the warning to the fact that she had just witnessed Brandon Jenner’s sublime support set and she was apprehensive at the admiration his uplifting songs like I Believe  and The Best of Us had been receiving. Later, Jenner joins Rachael on stage but for the moment she moves to piano for the playful Stick Around, channelling Carole King and maybe Randy Newman. On the beautiful Heavyweight she is joined by Beckie Doe and there is nice interplay between violin and piano. Beckie, she jokes, is from Buckfastshire. Maybe Rachael has misheard Buckinghamshire or Bedfordshire but apart from confusion about her origins the two transatlantic collaborators seem to understand each other musically and the result is lush and atmospheric.

Duet is performed with long term band guitarist Kevin Salem who takes the role played by Ray LaMontagne on the Chesapeake album as Rachael confesses her fear of people and social situations. The songs speak for themselves however. The show is almost a retrospective with equal selections from all seven albums/EP’s released since 2003, the trio of songs from her Heavyweight EP that include It’ll Do and the title track being the most thoughtful and poignant. She points out that if you ever hear her music in a movie it’s nearly always going to be the reflective scene where someone has died. But that’s the territory; melodic, emotional, sad songs, beautifully sung. The one million plus You Tube views for her songs testify to the power and draw of these tracks.

The set ends with an encore of Elephants and Reason Why from Happenstance, just about as an effective closer as any, “So, I will head out alone/and hope for the best/we can hang our heads down as we skip goodbyes.” The audience leaves, fulfilled and satisfied each with their own personal interpretation.

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