That girl’s got some pipes on her

Rachel Yamagata takes it high, low and inbetween on her new album

by Katrina Wilber

Her growing popularity is not due to chance or accident.

Chicago-based singer-songwriter Rachel Yamagata’s “Happenstance,” released earlier this year, is a mellow, piano-heavy album that’s perfect to listen to after a crazy day. It’s the perfect accompaniment for a cup of coffee or hot chocolate on a cold, snowy day.

If she sounds familiar, maybe you caught her music on the TV shows “Everwood” or “Life as We Know It.” Maybe you heard her on “The Saturday Early Show” or an MTV show.

Then again, who cares where or when it was? There’s a timeless quality to her voice and music. She switches from a heavy jazz sound to a lighter, almost-pop one and back again, often within the same song. She growls and grinds out the low notes and then daintily soars up to the high ones, changing her voice as easily as you’d change a TV channel.

Yamagata grew up listening to Roberta Flack, James Taylor and Carole King, and after college, she spent six years touring with a funk band before going solo in 2002. Her wide variety of influences is evident in the cabaret-style “I Want You” and the slow-jazz feel of “Be Be Your Love.”

The somber, melancholy “Even So” starts out with a bare-bones piano in the background that pushes the spotlight onto Yamagata’s voice. She regretfully croons, “You’re gonna hate me when I tell you everything/ You’re gonna question whether you really know me at all/ You will revisit every smile, and where it fit into the day/ I know this is how it will play.”

The song’s mournful music and lyrics are sure to bring back those repressed thoughts of ruined relationships, but it’s nice to remember that everyone else has been there too.

As Yamagata’s first full-length album (she made an EP in 2002), “Happenstance” shows the potential of an artist who could reach the heights of those she idolized.