Live review: Rachael Sage + Fiona Harte – Green Note, Camden, London 17th August 2022

With a back catalogue of  14 albums spanning across almost three decades, tonight’s act has no shortage of material and whilst her own press release labels her as alternative pop, to this reviewer’s ears her oeuvre seems to fit uncontroversially within the wide Americana ambit that AUK embraces. Touchstones, in addition to the press release cross-checks of an eclectic mix of comparator artists and those whom she has supported include Regina Spektor, Fiona Apple and Jesca Hoop all of whom arguably straddle a few genres. The Green Note is as cosy as ever and as steady rain marked the end of the latest heatwave the atmosphere was comfortably sub-greenhouse.

When Sage takes the stage, she is adorned with a multi coloured flowered hat and diamante hooped earrings (well, I say diamante, but who knows) so, even without the singing on stage under the spotlight bit, she would be hard not to notice. As a New York resident she was hit early and deeply by the whole gamut of covid restrictions (imposed at State level in the USA) on performing musicians so she is relishing the return to live gigging. Indeed, the classy latest single ‘Revelation Ground’ is rooted in the feelings during and post pandemic, as Sage reminds herself of the uplifting things about life after having to face up with loss, grief and deprivation for the best part of two years. Her voice is very much a well-honed and multi skilled musical instrument, always keeping the listener engaged as to where it will head to next.

Sage shifts between piano for about two thirds of the set with the remainder mainly acoustic. The exceptions are the sung/spoken shorter pieces ‘Unconditional’ and ‘Magenta and Blue’ where, aside from the tambourine for rhythm, it’s just Sage’s multi-tasking voice and the violin. And the encore, where she goes electric, is from that nichest of niches she describes as Yiddish Punk, the punchy jangling tune of ‘Umru Meine’. On a similar theme she describes how she speaks Hebrew with a southern accent by virtue of her Atlanta lineage. A big part of the musical effect is attributable to the prowess of Kelly Halloran on violin throughout the set.

Many of her songs are underpinned by the search for hope, inspiration, emotional stability and warmth, – as indicated by numerous titles throughout the expansive 16 song set. There’s a persistent dry sardonic wit which prevents anything veering towards schmaltz, both when singing and in her between song chat. As a lyrical example, try, from second piece ‘Alive’, “I’m a microfilm being pulled from the archive/ Ooooh it’s good to be alive…. /I’m the Olympics where no one ever cheats/Losing my virginity in purple satin sheets”.

Just Enough (I Feel Love)’ is a standout brand new song, one of several which will feature on Sage’s next album while the one cover song is ‘Only You’ the big Yazoo single of yesteryear. She serves up a stirring version and having the 1982 version’s synthesiser ‘upgraded’ to piano serves the song well.Here’s hoping that the high esteem that Sage has gained with some musical heavyweights will help nudge her to bigger acclaim within the wider gig going public.

Fiona Harte plays an acoustic support set, delivering her soulful bluesy voice with a confident stage presence She is a musical compadre of Sage, as a fellow NYC resident, after a Northern Irish upbringing. Her songs are variously focused on the fraught and nuanced stages of relationships and are worked around well-crafted melodic guitar parts. ‘Honey’ has a bluesy inflection whilst she closes with ‘What Is Loving Anymore ‘ which she announces as her favourite of her own songs and it is indeed a little melodic gem. She reappears in the main set as subtle vocal counterpoint to the headliner’s more up-and-at-‘em style.

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