Thursday, June 3, 2021

CD Odyssey Disc 1479: Michaela Anne

Welcome back! I’m on holiday this week, doing my traditional mid-year recharge. Do I feel recharged? I’m getting there, and glad I took the time.

In other news, if you are getting this direct to your email, a reminder that Blogspot is cancelling that service in a few weeks, so put this page in your favourites before that happens.

Disc 1479 is…. Ease My Mind

Artist: Michaela Anne

Year of Release: 2014

What’s up with the Cover? Not quite the Giant Head cover, here we have the more corporately classical, “Head and Shoulders Shot” with the additional flair of…one arm raised! As H&S shots go, a raised arm is like an explosion of excitement.

This picture also reminded me how great it is to own a steamer to get the wrinkles out of my shirts. Assuming it wouldn’t damage Michaela’s homespun cred, she may want to invest in a steamer as well.

How I Came To Know It: I read a review of her most recent release, 2019’s “Desert Dove”. That got me digging through her back catalogue on Bandcamp and so…here we are.

How It Stacks Up: I have two Michaela Anne albums, with “Ease My Mind” coming in at #2.

Ratings: 3 stars but almost 4

Just looking at the cover photo above will tell you Michaela Anne’s career is just getting started. But while there is plenty of raw energy on the record, Anne’s debut album, “Ease My Mind” reveals that an old soul powers all that youthful glow.

My copy of this record is a Bandcamp download, where the tracks were labelled as “Americana/Roots”. Devout readers of my reviews will know I love this kind of music, but with its homespun wisdom, and a surfeit of pedal steel and harmonica, “Ease My Mind” is first and foremost a country record. Before you bemoan how modern country music is often about emotionally empty beers down on the pier and trucks out on the lawn, don’t despair; this record does not descend into such trite and obvious approaches.

That isn’t to say there aren’t touches of modern country here, because there are. However, Anne’s voice has an uncanny similarity to Suzy Bogguss, a country star who put out a string of records in the early nineties that don’t get the love they deserve thirty years later (never fear, dear reader, I’ll give them some love when I review them). Like Bogguss, Michaela Anne has a rich tone throughout her full register with a hint of pop sugar at one end and a dusty seventies ache at the other.

Mixed in with the nineties country vibe are touches of contemporary folk that reminded me of Mary Chapin Carpenter. At this stage of her career, Anne does not have Carpenter’s songwriting prowess, but few do. However, unlike Bogguss, Anne writes all her own songs on “Ease My Mind.” While they don’t explore a lot of new melodic territory, they are beautifully constructed, with a timeless quality that suggests they will hold up well.

The final influence is an urban country vibe that reminded me of Blue Rodeo. In fact, “When You Wanted Me” has a harmonica bit that was so similar, I dug up “Bad Timing” to see if she’d lifted the hook. Turns out it is similar, but very much its own composition. That said, I would not be surprised to learn that a mentor or parent in Michaela Anne’s past was a Blue Rodeo fan.

Lyrically, “Ease My Mind” features a lot of songs of yearning and heartbreak, to the point that it approaches full-blown break-up record status. On “Is This What Mama Meant” a couple work to push through hard patches of a relationship, and from there things mostly go downhill with love decaying on “When You Wanted Me” the infidelity on “The Haunting” and eventually the self-affirmation and rebirth of self on “Black and Gray”.

These are well-worn topics, and in places the imagery is obvious and cuts little new territory. Also, the first half of the album (“Side One” if you’re a vinyl enthusiast) is far superior to the second. However, the songs are collectively held up by the power and timeless quality of Michaela Anne’s vocals, some first-rate studio musicians, and a maturity that belies the age and experience of the artist.

I listened to this record a solid four times in a row before writing this review, and as it plays in the background right now, I don’t find myself at all tired of it. This is a good sign and has me looking forward to “Desert Dove” which I recall being even better.

Best tracks: Lift Me Up, Is This What Mamma Meant, When You Wanted Me, Black and Gray

No comments: