Sonia Rao live review - photo by Mark Shiwolich

Live Review: Sonia Rao at Rockwood Music Hall in New York, NY

Material: Singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and Season 1 contestant on The Voice, Sonia Rao showcased her newest release, Meet Them At The Door, a collection of her own brand of pop that Rao labels “personal and up close.”

Though they don’t always read that way in performance, the majority lean more toward the heavy side, dealing mostly with love and loss as Rao attempts to create emotional transparency. Going against the grain of what one might expect in an arrangement is a choice that works well in “Let Her Go,” a catchy ode about breaking free from a relationship. With its singable chorus and surprising chord changes, it is a perfect pairing of song and voice, which Rao fully capitalizes on. Conversely, in “Stick Around,” which deals with a suicide, the song’s plea to reconsider such a drastic decision would be better suited to a more tender and vulnerable treatment.

Musicianship: Sheer vocal power is an understatement in describing Rao’s delivery. There’s no doubt that passion is fueling her sound, but in regards to dynamics and the songs’ meaning, more nuanced moments would make for a richer palate in some of the material. Rao jockeys frequently between violin and piano, fully committed to both. She nails the pitch on the violin, while playing more than respectable singer/songwriter piano that is as robust as her vocals. Her backing band, visibly on board, occasionally competes with her own playing, especially with some of the guitar licks and bass lines. However, Peter Sachon on cello brings depth to the arrangements and the overall soundscape.

Performance: This show incorporated plenty of diversified staging, whether moving back and forth between instruments or Rao’s opening duet with Sachon, which was a lengthy yet engrossing kick-off to the set. In the interest of experimentation, Rao showcased her rendition of the Grammy-winning Sam Smith hit, “Stay with Me,” which she performed on violin with pre-recorded looped backgrounds. It was a tad  clumsy, but nonetheless, genuine. In general, Rao’s persona is shy but appealing, coming across with humility and the requisite amount of appreciation for her enthusiastic and loyal following.

Summary: Sonia Rao is an artist who imparts honesty and intensity in her performance. Her topics, though personal and intimate, are sometimes overshadowed by the musical treatments, which can be heavy-handed. Give this artist credit, however, for being more than willing to take risks on stage, which can only lead to further growth. Rao will be touring through December in support of the new release.

The Players: Sonia Rao, vocals, piano, violin, looping; Alex Prol, guitar; Amanda Ruzza, bass; Alex Alexander, drums; Peter Sachon, cello.

Photo by Mark Shiwolich

Venue: Rockwood Music Hall
City: New York, NY
Contact: [email protected]
Web: soniarao.com

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