RACHAEL SAGE – Pseudomyopia (MPress Records MP9009-2)

PseudomyopiaLast year, Sage a legally blind New York singer-songwriter without corrective lenses, released Myopia, her 14th album, packed with ringing guitars, piano and, for the most part, upbeat indie power pop built around the concept of short-sightedness and metaphorical blindness. This year, with the help of musicians that include bassist Richard Hammond, cellist Ward Williams and Patti Smith guitarist James Mastro, she’s revisited it (minus two tracks) as Pseudomyopia with all new acoustic arrangements and a title that extends the term to bigoted social attitudes towards diversity and difference.

As with the original, it opens with the air-punching celebratory feel of ‘Alive’, cello and mandolin augmenting the guitar and a line about being in the Olympics where nobody ever cheats and “losing my virginity in purple satin sheets”. ‘Daylight turns to piano, a song of domestic violence, the narrator unsure of how she should respond to her traumatised combat veteran husband, feminist themes also to be found on the cello and plinketty piano notes of ‘Sistersong’ as it addresses the pressures on women that won’t allow them to be themselves.

Self-identity and being comfortable with who you are also inform the cello-backed Tori Amos-like ‘Maybe She’ll Have Cats’, sung from the perspective of a father pondering on his sexually wayward teenage daughter’s future, and the piano-accompanied ‘Spark’ with its anthemic chorus surges. There are specifically political moments too. The bluesy ‘This Darkness’ treats on the controversy of the Dakota Pipeline and environmental neglect, the punningly titled ‘Snowed In’ with its brooding cello and dissonant guitar takes its inspiration from Edward Snowden’s revelations of mass surveillance by America’s intelligence agencies reflected in its theme of paranoia, while ‘Tomorrow’, with its la la la chorus, employs the notions of patriotism and nationhood to address the concept of truth and the perspectives from which it is viewed as she sings “Vision is a euphemism for blindness, Brave is a euphemism for bleak, but tomorrow is blue skies”.

The folksily reworked almost cinematic title track, which features fingersnaps and Mastro (curiously echoing Sting’s ‘Fields Of Gold’) counterpointing her piano, returns to the theme of self-discovery and self-confidence and overcoming emotional nearsightedness.

Of the two remaining cuts, one is a cover, an almost baroque chamber-like arrangement of Howard Jones’ ‘No One Is To Blame’ that she makes her totally her own while the other, ‘Olivia’, which sports hints of Regina Spektor, is a tribute to strong women that was specifically inspired by an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and the character of Olivia Benson played by Mariska Hargitay.

Regardless of whether you’re familiar with the original album, this is a terrific collection in its own right. If you have Myopia, you’ll want this too. If you get this, you’ll want the other.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website: www.rachaelsage.com

‘Alive’ – official video: