Album Review – Michaela Anne’s “Desert Dove”
Amid the mountain ranges running like crooked spines through the rugged landscapes of the American West, rain shadows persist over large tracts of land, causing the earth to crack and the sand to blow, leaving only the most hearty and resourceful of living things to scratch out a meager existence under an unrelenting sun. Impossible to avoid when trekking to country music’s epicenters out West, these desert scapes have become the inspiration for country and Western artists for nearly a century. From the Singing Cowboys serenading the saguaro cactus, to Gram Parsons scattering his ashes among the Joshua trees, the wide open spaces, the solitude, the way the barrenness makes the color of a single flower poking out through the sand that much more potent has inspired the poetry of many a country song.
Recorded in San Clemente, California where the desert meets the sea, Michaela Anne’s Desert Dove looks to capture the majesty and wonder many feel while in the midst of these arid landscapes, and instill it into songs about life and love. Produced by contemporary California country artist Sam Outlaw (now in Nashville), and Kelly Winrich of The Delta Spirit, they call upon a menagerie of sounds to see this expansive vision through, with textures of country, folk rock, classic pop, early psychedelia, and even Latin to extend Michaela’s sound beyond her original home of more defined country.
Michaela Anne has lived a life on the move. Growing up in a military family, and now living as a traveling musician, she’s undoubtedly experienced those moments of desert wonder in her travelogue, and captures her restless experiences in the soaring chorus of the song “Child of the Wind.” The first song on the new record, “By Our Design,” is a very intimate portrait of her life with her husband and drummer in their quaint Nashville abode. But from there, much of Desert Dove finds Michaela resuming one of the themes present in previous works of an open and sometimes reckless heart prone to fall in love at a moment’s notice.
“Will I ever learn to protect my heart?” Michaela wonders, as a worried steel guitar wafts along the melody of “One Heart” like a foreboding wind. A similar theme is broached in one of Desert Dove‘s most country tracks, the close dance song “Two Fools” about finding it hard to define boundaries between friends. In “Somebody New,” the danger goes from impending to absolute, speaking to the struggle within even the most steeled of hearts. Ultimately, we are all at the whims of emotions that often are stronger than our efforts to beat them back.
Incredible care goes into the compositions of Desert Dove, from the writing, to the use of steel and strings and keys to create the ethereal and airy mindscape that allows you to float above mundanity and lose yourself in these songs. Long-time Michaela Anne collaborator Kristin Weber creates lush, spirited string arrangements, while the lead guitar parts include notions of Tom Petty and Mark Knopfler. Both delicate and confident, just the sound Desert Dove makes feels like a precious thing. But don’t think by the pink hues of the cover and Michaela’s petite build that she’s a pushover. The stern confidence of “If I Wanted You Opinion” marks on the the record’s best tracks.
Though all the songs of Desert Dove are well-apportioned and pleasing, and the variety is ascetically fulfilling in it’s diversity, you worry just a little bit that by not being too much of any one thing, Michaela may fall into that indefinable realm of “Americana” where it can be hard to separate from the herd. The two clearly country songs on the record don’t come until the final third, and some of the more airy and soft production may hide the deeper body of material born out in the writing.
But this might also be the right recipe to spirit Michaela Anne into the greater awareness her musical efforts deserve. Another beneficial attribute to Desert Dove is how producers Sam Outlaw and Kelly Winrich discovered what is possibly the best way to present Michaela Anne’s songs and voice in recorded form. She pulls off country very well, but doesn’t have a hard twang to her voice, and some of her songs don’t lend perfectly to the country aesthetic. The California-style of country where those folk rock influences can flow in is probably the preferable way to present her music in a more pleasing and flattering approach, even if as a country fan you kind of selfishly want a few more of those dancehall shuffles since she does those well too.
As the first release from Michaela Anne on Yep Roc Records, the hope is Desert Dove will take her from a struggling songwriter moonlighting as a piano teacher, to one of those names we regularly mention as an artist helping to lead the independent roots resurgence. Many could learn from the hard work Michaela has put in to make it here, and the care and passion put into this project from all involved, while we all benefit from the pleasing results. But Desert Dove doesn’t feel like the final cresting of the mountain, it feels like the starting point for an artist long overlooked, and one who will hopefully be carried to even greater heights from the spirit instilled in this record.
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Purchase Desert Dove from Yep Roc
October 2, 2019 @ 8:49 am
Hey, great review!
Really enjoying this album, the songs are so beautiful and the words are in the now.
October 2, 2019 @ 8:53 am
October 2, 2019 @ 9:10 am
Great album. Been a fan of hers since I saw her with Sam Outlaw
October 2, 2019 @ 9:26 am
Good review. I really enjoyed this record.
October 2, 2019 @ 12:16 pm
Also, thanks for featuring a record that could have been lost in the shuffle of a “Super Friday” release.
October 2, 2019 @ 9:40 am
based on the few tracks i’ve heard by M I’d have to agree with your review , trigger .
couldn’t help thinking about the success of Golden Hour with all of its ‘ambiguity of genre ‘ and its less -than great -but perfect -vocalist . in the end , its always the vibe , not so much the flawless approach to arrangements, the categorizing or the pandering that delivers . and the vibe starts wit the heart and an honest vision . too many legendary examples to cite here .
i loved what i’ve heard and i love the damn-the -torpedoes approach to presenting it in a way that seems to completely complement and showcase M’s strengths and capture the right vibe .
October 2, 2019 @ 10:07 am
Michaela Anne found the right songs for the album & her fine voice.
My highlights: “If I Wanted Your Opinion”, “Child Of The Wind” & “Run Away With Me”
Emma Jene – Erosion – Album (10 Tracks) – Released (09/26)
Young australian singer/songwriter. First single “Feels So Good” is the new #1 on the Australian Country Top 40 & sounds like a radio-friendly Suzy Bogguss single. The album is mixing country-pop & traditional leaning songs.
My highlights: “Fly On The Wall” (a duet with the talented Angus Gill), “Homebound Greyhound” & “Just Go”.
Angus Gill released his new album Welcome To My Heart two weeks ago.
Michelle Gardiner – Michelle Gardiner – EP (4 Tracks) – Released (08/22)
Australian singer/songwriter with a small hit on the aussie country charts (“Sing Me A Memory”) & her new single “Am I Doing This Right”. Fine singer & country-pop songs.
My highlights: “Sing Me A Memory” & the ballad “Does He Love Me”.
Tania Kernaghan – “Here’s To It” – Single
Tania Kernaghan is one of the big stars of australian country music. Singer/Songwriter/TV star with 16 #1 hits so far. A song about family, friends & having a good time. Next Top 10 hit for Tania.
Kristy Cox – “Train” – Single
Australias bluegrass queen is getting better with every song. The bluesy “Train” is the folllow-up to the Top 10 single “Yesterday’s Gone”. Her next album is in the pipeline. No release date so far for No Headlights.
October 2, 2019 @ 11:31 am
Texas songwriter Carrie Rodriguez has a new single out called “Edge of The Colorado”. While some of her material straddles the lines between Tejano/rancheras/americana and country, the new song is all country and really good.
October 2, 2019 @ 11:13 am
This is good stuff. Gonna check out the album.
October 2, 2019 @ 11:39 am
Already in my rotation. Strong record.
October 2, 2019 @ 3:40 pm
“Amid the mountain ranges running like crooked spines through the rugged landscapes of the American West, rain shadows persist over large tracts of land, causing the earth to crack and the sand to blow, leaving only the most hearty and resourceful of living things to scratch out a meager existence under an unrelenting sun.”
It’s hot. Damn hot. Reeeeal hot. Hottest things is my shorts. I could cook things in it! A little Crotch Pot Cooking.
October 2, 2019 @ 3:42 pm
Don’t forget Michaela Anne and Sam Outlaw’s “One Love Song”
Play the jukebox, put some George Jones on…
October 2, 2019 @ 4:43 pm
That is just an amazing song, I’ve had it on repeat since the first time I heard it. There’s nothing better than a killer duet!
October 2, 2019 @ 5:52 pm
October 2, 2019 @ 4:59 pm
Great review and I’ll check out the album. Because I’m born and raised in the high desert, I must say, San Clemente is not a desert town that meets the sea. It’s a coastal orange county beach town. Worlds apart from the mojave or any other California desert.
October 2, 2019 @ 6:02 pm
Didn’t mean to imply that San Clemente is a desert town, just a place on the ocean in a region (southern California) where the prevailing landscape is desert. Probably took a little poetic license, but hopefully folks understand what I mean.
October 2, 2019 @ 9:07 pm
I grew up on the beaches of San Clemente. I raised an eyebrow at that, but hey, technically it’s all a desert here. San Clemente is one of the last old school surf towns along the coast in SoCal. It has a grit and a lack of pretense that other beach cities exhibit – a holdout in an era of leased high end cars and transplant self-importance, but I’m sure San Clemente will end up like all the rest. Anyway, thanks for the heads up on this album. I’m enjoying it immensely thus far. I put Zach Bryan on pause to give it a listen.
October 2, 2019 @ 6:58 pm
Only have listened to Child Of The Wind thus far but like what I am hearing!!
October 3, 2019 @ 3:16 am
Wow this album is absolutely lush, Golden Hour vibe but easier on the ear to me. Thanks for making me aware of it!
October 3, 2019 @ 5:03 am
I know I’m in the minority here but I couldn’t get into this album. I tried. It sounds nice and her voice is great but it lost me. I got bored with it halfway through.
October 4, 2019 @ 9:20 pm
I had the same experience. With all of these raves, though, I’m going to try it again. I want to hear what everyone else is hearing.
The album that’s blowing me away right now is Kelsey Waldon’s White Noise/White Lines, released yesterday. Unless I’m mistaken, this is easily the best album of an incredible year (sure do love Croy and the Boys, though) and one of the best of most years. I don’t know how I’m ever going to get this one off the turntable.
October 8, 2019 @ 3:36 pm
its always interesting what grabs someone’s ear musically . its so subjective .
we see it all the time here on SCM …sometimes extremes of opinion over the same artist …or even the genre an artist has chosen to work in .
I gave kelsey waldon several listens and it didn’t do it for me . michaela certainly did though ….?
October 3, 2019 @ 6:58 am
This album is on point for me. There is high-quality female country music out there.
I will take her, Jamie Lin Wilson, Sunny Sweeney, Courtney Patton, and Holly Williams over the Highwomen any day.
October 4, 2019 @ 5:28 am
If you haven’t already heard it, the recent Kristina Murray album may be up your alley as well.
October 4, 2019 @ 11:33 am
Thanks. I will check that out.
October 3, 2019 @ 8:51 am
You got my attention with ‘rainshadow’. That is a phenomenon I write about all the time but I never thought I would see it in a country music review. Music with a sense of place, especially out west are right in my sweet spot. Thanks for pointing this one out!
October 3, 2019 @ 11:19 am
So glad to see you reviewed this album! I am loving it. I got to see her when she opened for Sam Outlaw a couple of years ago and I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t pay as much attention to her then as I should have.
October 3, 2019 @ 8:41 pm
After listening to the song snippets on Amazon I purchased 4 of the songs off Desert Dove which is a large quantity for me these days from any new album as usually I struggle to find a single song I consider worthy on most new releases. Michaela Anne has really upped the ante with this one compared to her previous albums in terms of songwriting, vocal delivery, and production. Her great duet with Sam Outlaw “One Love Song” was mentioned in a previous post and I think it should have been included on this album as it fits in perfectly with the rest of this fine songs in this collection.
October 4, 2019 @ 9:41 am
Love the outfit on the cover!
October 5, 2019 @ 5:20 am
I left the Simpson review comment cacophony to listen to this. Quite nice.
Per Tore Gresseth
October 7, 2019 @ 7:42 am
Wow, thanks for letting me make this discovery! Amazing album with an amazing voice. I think I have listened to «Two Fools» 20 times the last 24 hours.
October 8, 2019 @ 3:06 pm
CD came today. The production is spectacular.
I roll my eyes modern reverb because it usually hides things, but on this record her voice always comes through beautifully, and I can’t believe I’m writing this, at times it’s as achingly sweet and clear as Emmylou’s.
A couple things: nice grooves, nice key changes, “Child of the Wind” has that unusual Knopfler guitar tone, tasty guitar and steel as usual from Jeremy Long, and what a pleasure to hear Molly Jenson on BGV’s again. Something 80s pop about the production, maybe it’s just me.
Fits right into any Sam Outlaw collection. This SoCal group has a sound as identifiable as eastern Kentucky’s.
October 10, 2019 @ 12:01 am
I adore this album. It has a beautiful atmosphere to it. Michaela Anne is quickly becoming one of my favorite female artists.