Rachael Sage “Wax”

“Are you gonna save a life with all your maybe, might / I don’t need a thing a song to sing / just someone to bring me blue roses” – Rachael Sage (from “Blue Roses”)

“Blue Roses”, the new album by Rachael Sage, is a collection of songs about the impact any single person can have upon the destiny of another – for better or for worse, but mostly for the better. The NYC-based multi-instrumentalist and producer says she has spent most of the last two years (since the release of her tenth album, “Haunted By You”) trying to channel any evidence of compassion in general, into her creative output. “These are incredibly confusing, chaotic times we’re living in, and the older I get, the more vital it seems to me to document unabashed, wholehearted empathy wherever and however I can as an artist.”

For the 4-time Independent Music Award winner, known for her soulful vocals, classically-influenced piano playing and delicate guitar work, the desire to prove the essential empathy of human character through music began in second grade. Sage reveals, “I was perpetually afraid the three meanest bullies in my class were going to beat me up…so I resolved to entertain them as a form of distraction.” Learning to play the Top 40 Countdown on the piano as way to deflect paid off, and eventually Sage became accepted among her classmates as “that girl who could play any song by ear”, instead of just a target for being different. Now, she concedes, “I feel I’ve gotten to a place where I have no choice but to try to magnify any glimmer of acceptance and understanding under the songwriting microscope. I guess you could say I’m on a mission to prove the 6 o’clock news wrong.

On the title cut, “Blue Roses”, Sage depicts an unusual relationship in which two people who won’t ultimately remain lovers connect in a way that is nonetheless transformational and permanent. “What’s different about my perspective on love on this record is that what anyone else thinks is simply irrelevant. I’m working from the presumption that social expectations are a prison…and salvation from my point of view is when you can look another person in the eyes, have no regrets, and know you are both better people for having known each other.”

The theme of transformation recurs on several other tracks on the record, including “Wax”, featuring internationally renowned theremin player Armen Ra (Antony & The Johnsons). Over hypnotically drum-looped verses, Sage muses bittersweetly over prior risks and current dangers in loving someone who seemingly can’t commit, while acknowledging the element of her own karma in the situation (“if you break one heart it’ll boomerang back / where was I when they taught that lesson”).

A former ballet dancer who attended The School Of American Ballet as a child, as well as a classically-trained actor who studied Shakespeare at The New York Public Theater, Sage channels theatricality into all aspects of her music, both in the studio and on stage. Described as “a great gift…of talent and beauty” by Judy Collins – with whom Sage often tours – Sage frequently performs in self-designed costumes featuring feathers, glitter and her own hand-painted, whimsical iconography. She has shared stages with A Great Big World, Marc Cohn, Sarah McLachlan, Eric Burdon and Ani DiFranco, and performed at Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Accompanied by her long-time touring band The Sequins (drummer Andy Mac, cellist Ward Williams and violinist Kelly Halloran), Sage has performed extensively throughout the U.S., UK, Europe and is known for her improvisational and often hilarious stage-antics, dubbed “her inner-Fanny Brice” by The New York Times.

On “Happiness (Maddie’s Song)”, the brightest and most hopeful track on the album, an upbeat piano melody and transcendent string lines seem to literally transform the singer from a place of solitude to one of utter euphoria, where everything seems possible and the heart is fully in command. “I wrote this song after seeing a performance that was so extraordinary that I felt I had met a soul mate – even though I was merely in the audience. I wanted to distill that sense of idealism, where through sharing our creativity with each other, we can profoundly impact other people we may not even know personally.”

One group of young girls who’ve been positively impacted by Sage’s music just happened to be the focus of Lifetime® TV’s hit reality series, “Dance Moms”. The current season has already featured eight of Sage’s songs in the Abby Lee Dance Company’s award-winning lyrical dance numbers, and will be airing two more from the new album when the season resumes. As a former ballet dancer herself, Sage admits “it’s been pretty thrilling to watch young dancers like Maddie Ziegler and Chloe Lukasiak perform week after week to my music. They’re incredible young artists, and have brought me back to dance in such a unique and unexpected way!”

Sage, who runs her own label MPress Records (which also releases albums by Grammy nominee Seth Glier and Melissa Ferrick), has had quite an impact as both an independent musician and a supporter of emerging talent. As producer of the annual “New Arrivals” compilation series, she has curated five volumes of top-tier international indie talent, each benefiting a different charity (Volume 5, released in 2013, benefits three Hurricane Sandy-related charities). A prolific visual artist, she also serves as an ambassador for Postcards For Peace, which has featured several of her designs.

Produced by Sage with two-time Grammy nominee John Shyloski (Stephen Kellogg, Johnny Winter), “Blue Roses” features 13 chamber-pop gems, supported by an impressive lineup of musical guests including drummer Quinn (Daft Punk), percussionist/singer Everett Bradley (Bruce Springsteen, Hall & Oates) and guitarists James Mastro (Garland Jeffries, Ian Hunter) and Jack Petruzelli (Patti Smith, Rufus Wainwright). Closing out the album with a cover of Neil Young’s “Helpless” – reimagined as a duet featuring folk icon Judy Collins and accompanied by Charleston alt-rock band A Fragile Tomorrow – Sage comes full circle, imbibing the classic anthem with a warmth that is entirely her own.