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Managing expectations

| November 4, 2011

Rachael Yamagata by Laura Crosta

Reversals of fortune work fine in books and movies, but in music — where the protagonists and narrators tend to be one in same with their authors — they’re not always so appreciated. In town next week, Rachael Yamagata, AA Bondy, and Jesse Sykes & The Sweet Hereafter know. White Denim might yet learn.

Eight years ago, Rachael Yamagata had strayed from Bumpus and begun playing solo sets that led to her being one of the few artists to emerge from Mobfest with a record deal. A subsequent, weekly residency at Elbo Room built her growing legend, where she’d channel Carole King as if by torchlight. Her powerful, smoky voice portended her RCA debut to be an intensely intimate affair that would cut through the flashy garage-rock revival. But we should have known her debut EP and album, Happenstance, wouldn’t be cut in front of us, and soon she was whisked off to the Caribbean with producer John Alagia and emerged with something truer to her ’70s singer/songwriter influences than her own idiosyncrasies. An agonizing four-year gulf involving a label shift (to Warner Bros.) resulted in the dubious decision to release a double album (Elephants . . . Teeth Sinking Into Hearts) and she found herself an orphan on Alagia’s couch.

Chesapeake — a nod to the location of those cushions — shows that Yamagata and Alagia are pretty confident they can crack the VH1 quagmire, and in a year that’s seen Adele own the charts there could be something to that. Lyrically, she’s consumed with hesitation, indecision, desperation, dependency, and need, and the arrangements are there for her voice to rest, like a feather falling on a pillow in a detergent commercial. A darkness looms in “Starlight,” and “The Way It Seems To Go” tinkers with R&B and gospel flavors, but mostly they stick to what they know. The child of divorce, it’d be understandable if Yamagata just wants some stability. But the sky was the limit down in that Lincoln Ave. basement. (Tuesday@Logan Square Aud. with Mike Viola.)

In the late ’90s, Verbena had the attention of the right people (Dave Grohl, Kiefer Sutherland), but could never convince anyone else that their stylish, garage-rock looks were nothing more than a disguise for a Nirvana clone. Frontman Scott “AABondy retreated to the Catskills to kickstart a solo career, and has since flourished by speaking in a native tongue. Reunited with producer Rob Schnapf, Believers (Fat Possum) can’t fully mask his rockist tendencies (“The Heart Is Willing” and “Skull & Bones” curiously recall early Clinic), and finds him stretching into an idiom like current My Morning Jacket or Phosphorescent. Bondy’s unforced vocals — granted, an easy choice given music this languid — uncover sleepless nights along the muggy Mississippi, and the knowledge that insomnia goes deeper than the weather. (Tuesday@Lincoln Hall with Gold Leaves.)

Don’t bother Jesse Sykes with any sympathetic, “where did it all go wrong” looks; it’s Phil Wandscher in her backing band, The Sweet Hereafter, who’s clawed his way back. The guitarist had the pleasure of dealing with Ryan Adams in Faithless Street-to-Strangers Almanac-era Whiskeytown, but has successfully scrubbed his alt-country skin clean. When he shares songwriting credits with Sykes on the band’s fifth album, Marble Son (Station Grey), the tracks carry a blues-enriched, psychedelic-rock feel that pins “Hushed By Devotion” and “Weight Of Cancer” to Grateful Dead influence with a baroque composure. By herself, Sykes shifts into a mystical-Americana, one that makes “Birds Of Passerine” sound like Mercury Rev outtakes from Deserter’s Songs. (Tuesday@Empty Bottle with Buffalo Killers.)

White Denim began as a record-what/when-we-want entity, primed to rock balls and take advantage of web distribution whenever possible. Today they’re not exactly a major-label drone — though they have complained about such a feeling — but anachronistically skew ever closer to ’70s prog than ever on the Takes Place In Your Work Space (Downtown) EP. While the full-length D, released earlier this year, still flashed their trademark ADD, Work Space feels more album-like than any of their albums. The four tracks smooth the edges without slowing the band down, leaving plenty of room to boogie and still leave you with enough breath to pull some tubes. (Monday@House Of Blues with PacTour: Manchester Orchestra and The Dear Hunter.)

— Steve Forstneger

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Category: Stage Buzz, Weekly

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