Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Michael-Ann: “Heavy Load” (2014) CD Review

Michael-Ann’s debut full-length CD, Heavy Load, is a wonderful combination of country, bluegrass and folk, with mostly original tunes, really good vocals and some excellent work from the other musicians. There is also a lot of great energy in these tracks, particularly in a song like “Never Mind.”

Heavy Load opens with “Any Day.” The fiddle gets this song off to a fun start. It’s a good country song, taking ordinary troubles (“I’m short on rent”), and giving them a positive feel through the very act of singing them out.  Waiting for my true love/But he never seems to come/All my friends keep on telling me/Everything will be all right/Well, I’ve waited too long/Cannot wait much more.” Michael-Ann’s vocal approach has energy and an edge, which is great. She comes across as kind of a tough person who can hold her own.

She sounds more vulnerable on the following track, “Heavy Load,” the album’s title track. It has a mellower, sweeter vibe. “It seems to me I’m in need of healing.” The song then gains in energy when the drums come in, and her vocals respond, like she’s taking control of her own healing. The music will do it for her, and for us too. The “na-na na-na” section has such a happy feel to it that it’s all but guaranteed to raise your spirits. Susan Sheller and Calico The Band provide backing vocals on this track.

“Mama’s Sleepin’” begins with a great bit of bluesy guitar, which comes as a surprise. And Michael-Ann’s vocals sound fantastic over that guitar. The song then kicks in, and it’s a bit of folk, a bit of country, a bit of blues. Yeah, it’s kind of a glorious combination. I am completely in love with Michael-Ann’s vocals on this track, and this song also features some nice work by Dennis Caplinger on banjo. This is one of my personal favorite tracks.

“Hard To Breathe” is one of those wonderful mellow, sad country tunes. The first line is “I will get over you.” When someone starts off by saying that, you know there’s a good chance he or she won’t be able to. Are you exorcising that particular demon by singing about him, or are you focusing even more on him? It’s always a risk. She asks, “Why can’t true love last forever?” The song ends where it began, with that promise to herself, “I will get over you.”

“I Would” is so pretty, a song of love and devotion that rings true. Her vocals are absolutely beautiful here. And I love the way her vocals blend with those of Amilia K Spicer, who provides backing vocals on this track. This track also features Evan Smalley on cello, an instrument that I always appreciate. This is probably my favorite track. “I would give you back all that is lost/I’d count the cost just for you/I would piece together your dreams.”

“Troubles To The Wind” is another of this CD’s highlights, with an interesting, darker vibe. There is some wonderful work on banjo, particularly in the instrumental section. It's followed by the album’s sole cover, a seriously pretty rendition of “Bring It On Home,” a tune written by Eric Nelson. Michael-Ann's vocals really shine on this track. And I like the use of accordion during the instrumental section (that's Phil Parlapiano).

Heavy Load concludes with "What Don't Kill Ya," a good country rock tune with a wonderful rhythm. This is one of those songs to get you up off your seat and on the dance floor. It turns into a good jam at the end.

CD Track List

  1. Any Day
  2. Heavy Load
  3. Mama’s Sleepin’
  4. Hard To Breathe
  5. Never Mind
  6. Bumble Bee
  7. Trail Of My Tears
  8. I Would
  9. Heaven
  10. Troubles To The Wind
  11. Bring It On Home
  12. What Don’t Kill Ya


Michael-Ann performs the lead vocals and plays acoustic guitar. Joining her on this release are Randy Ray Mitchell on acoustic guitar, electric guitar, resonator, slide, tambourine and backing vocals; Mark Christian on electric guitar and banjo; Dennis Caplinger on fiddle, banjo, mandolin and resonator; Dave Pearlman on pedal steel; Phil Parlapiano on accordion, keyboard, organ; Aubrey Richmond on fiddle; Gabriel Witcher on fiddle; Evan Smalley on cello; Taras Prodaniuk on bass; Vic Koler on upright bass; Erik Eldenius on drums; David Goodstein on drums; Susan Sheller on backing vocals; and Amilia K. Spicer on backing vocals.

Heavy Load is scheduled to be released on CD on August 19, 2014. It is available now digitally.

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