In a recent interview singer songwriter Michaela Anne spoke of a time when she lived in New York and was afraid to admit she liked country music because it was seen as lowbrow and ‘trash’. Now she happily admits to loving Shania, the Dixie Chicks as well as Lucinda Williams and Emmylou. Learning to love who you really are is one idea explored on her excellent new album Desert Dove. Produced by Sam Outlaw and Kelly Winrich, the album’s natural, effortless style suggests Michaela Anne is an artist who is now comfortable embracing her own personal, and musical, identity.
The light country pop arrangements on this album remind me of early Shania – only with more subtle, softer and endearing vocals. The 90s are so long ago that we can now, depressingly, call this sound ‘vintage’.
By Our Design is rich with strings and has an airy fresh production style which lets the song breathe. A love song for her husband it has a sense of appreciative wonder at its core. You and me, living life by our design. This quietly independent spirit has allowed her to develop as an artist and songwriter too. Lush strings are also the star of gorgeous Tattered, Torn and Blue (And Crazy) which explores identity, friendship and heartbreak.
On One Heart she asks Will I ever learn to protect my heart?, before defending her right to fall in love ‘too fast’ and ‘too hard’. The rockier edge to this song is perfect, with the guitar solo never allowed to become cheesy or overpowering.
What strikes me about this album is how many brilliantly catchy and melodic songs there are. I’m Not The Fire, Run Away With Me and Child of the Wind would have all fit easily on country radio back in the day. These songs have a breezy confidence at their core which is irresistible, reminding me of the Caroline Spence album from earlier this year.
The stand out, should-be-a-hit-song-if-the-world-was-fair, track is If I Wanted Your Opinion. Full of witty humour and feminist thinking, it’s an honest take on being woman in the industry. This Honky Tonk Angel has had enough of the sexist bullshit and she sounds like she’s enjoying putting the mansplainers into their place. I doubt there’s a women listening who doesn’t laugh and clap along in solidarity with this one.
Classic country ballad Two Fools shows she can sing an old-fashioned waltzing heartbreaker too. Title track Desert Dove is more introspective, and stylistically owes a debt to Californian rock, rather than Tennessee country. Similar is the second last track Somebody New, which is very Fleetwood Mac musically. The latter is probably the only real misstep on the album for me, as I felt the tone was a little too light for subject matter like this. Or maybe I just like my cheating songs a little more depressing and regretful. Still you can’t fault the sharp honesty to the lyrics.
The final song is a simpler acoustic track, appropriately titled Be Easy. She offers advice to a friend struggling – such a quiet moment of compassion and kindness is a perfect note to end on.
Michaela Anne has produced one of the most enjoyable Americana records of the year so far. The songwriting quality never dips and the production is perfect. Desert Dove soars. Make sure you catch the wind.
Buy the gorgeous pink vinyl here: https://michaelaanne.bandcamp.com/album/desert-dove-3