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[Read our interview with Michaela Anne here]
The title track of Michaela Anne’s Desert Dove begins with the line "I met a dove in the desert," and it's hard not to think of the fact that Anne’s music, like a bird on the ground, similarly lives between two classical elements. Her music is pure country, but it’s as much air as it is earth.
Anne's voice floats above her songs, in a similar vein as Cowboy Junkies' Margo Timmins. But her band's arrangements are a little more rooted in traditional country and Americana. At the same time, the music is trippy, with tracks a little slow and somehow slightly off-kilter, adding to the airiness of Anne's vocals. Many of the tunes feel like they're rising out of a lovely waking dream.
"By Our Design," the opening track, features Anne's voice wafting above a familiar country guitar strum, with some strings making the song grander, but also adding to the surrealism of the track. The only thing keeping the song from disappearing into the atmosphere is the powerful electric guitar that comes in at the end, an anchor on the proceedings.
"I'm Not the Fire" is similarly country, with a throwback, old-school country lyric: "While your eyes are burning holes in me / I can’t fight a flame that you stoke / I’m not the fire / I’m just the smoke." Anne has a beautiful voice that's high without being shrill. But there's also a wall between her and the audience. She's talked about breaking the silently parochial edicts of Nashville songwriting, those that mandate a woman in a song can be neither a victim nor an aggressor. By establishing a passive persona, she's cleverly thumbing her nose at the unwritten rules, while also following them; after all, what’s less connected to anything than smoke?
Anne also explores sounds beyond country. "One Heart" has a Sheryl Crow-fronting-Fleetwood Mac energy, with some Daniel Lanois-esque atmospheric pedal steel howling through the song (it's actually courtesy of Jeremy Long). The song pulls together seemingly incongruous influences, but it works because of Anne's commitment. Her vocals are the wind pushing the sailboat of a song across the track. "Run Away with Me," a not-quite-so-standard country song, is also driven by disparate inspirations. In this case, a Cars-like vocal melody and some guitars on loan from Blue Öyster Cult. The song is catchy and reads as country, but it's got enough of a twist that your attention is held.
Anne ends the album on a perfect note. "Be Easy" is quiet, featuring just Anne's voice and her own guitar. It's the first chance the listener has to hear her alone, without the well-produced tracks beneath her. The song has the same sensibility as the rest of the album, but it's almost like getting to hear one of her demos. It's brave and intimate and an ideal way to end a densely enjoyable album.
When we think of country music, we tend to think of the earth. While it's a contemporary music form, there's something old-fashioned about it. At its core, it's a sepia-aged photo more than a Moon-filtered Instagram post. Anne has a voice capable of soaring through songs, and while it feels like she's of the clouds, she is, like all of us, on terra firma.
Notable Tracks: "Be Easy" | “By Our Design” | "I’m Not the Fire" | “One Heart”