Rachael Yamagata Happenstance

Few things are more frustrating to me than finding an original voice that seems utterly content in playing into nearly every singer/songwriter cliché. Twenty-six-year-old Rachael Yamagata, whose voice is instantly reminiscent of songstress Fiona Apple ("Letter Read” holds melodic resemblance to "Criminal,” for instance, that is downright uncanny), has tried her best to make Happenstance something more substantial than it ultimately is. And though she obviously put a lot of effort into making her debut as diverse as she could, often attempting a new arrangement or vocal approach with each track — from hints of jazz and blues to Cat Power style balladry — far too little of it actually goes outside the predictable ruminations on love and loss set against drab, downbeat melodies. "Worn Me Down” and "1963,” one of the few tracks to break from the solemn mould, are the two biggest exceptions here, but they, along with the few other promising moments, can only do so much to make up for Happenstance’s lack of a spark or real substance, and certainly can’t save it from not being much more than a competent repackaging of any number of mediocre singer/songwriters of the last decade. (RCA)