Rachel Yamagata Rachel Yamagata Arista/Private Music Her voice and songs are distilled in heartache. More than just smooth rock for hipsters, Rachel Yamagata’s first major release EP is dripping with self-deprecation and intense sincerity. She continuously and successfully connects the lines between subtle groove, pop-flavored turns and straightforward, break-your-heart-just-to-listen lyrics and vocal delivery. She embraces the jazz elements in her voice without pulling out the super shiny adult contemporary jive that only serves to distract and mostly annoy. This particular element has claimed the initially promising consistency from Alana Davis’ first record and, most recently, with the debut release from U.K. chanteuse Joss Stone. Throughout the EP, Yamagata remains in control, self-aware and cool. It begins with “Collide,” a song that leads with a simple, mellow piano melody that immediately beckons for an involuntary head nod with closed eyes response from listeners. There is sultry symmetry of movement between the opening piano lines and Yamagata’s scruffy velvet croon. This is sustained with the second cut, “Known For Years,” a song of discommended reflection and tattered romanticism. “Worn Me Down” picks up the pace without missing a beat. At this point it’s clear that no matter where the tempo or her vocal range lands, there is a distinct feeling of identity that is poured in concrete throughout the track listing. “The Reason Why” is a song of simple construction and maximum impact. This song is absolutely gorgeous and absolutely painful: So I will head out alone, hope for the best and hang our heads down as we skip the goodbyes. / So you can tell the world what you want them to hear I’ve got nothing left to lose, my dear / So I’m up for the little white lies / But you and I know the reason why. Her songs are plaintive and undesigning, but it’s the distinguished intimacy of her voice that is her true identity. If she delivers the goods in a like manner on her forthcoming full-length, it’s sure to find its way to many “Best of” lists for 2004.