By Megan Bledsoe
It can be alarming sometimes to hear an artist talk of expanding their sound. In mainstream country, it's usually a not-so-subtle hint that the artist wants to abandon his or her roots in favor of some ill-advised EDM singles in a misguided effort to stay relevant. It can make independent fans cautious too, as their favorite artists move further and further away from what captured these fans in the first place (Sturgill, anyone?).
But then there are those times when such expansion really works, bringing artists to their full potential and capturing their music better than ever before. Such is the case with Michaela Anne and Desert Dove, as she left Nashville behind for California and a more alt-rock vibe. But though it leans more toward rock than country, the arrangements are more polished, with sweeping strings to make the whole thing mellow and lonesome like the deserts of the West. Sam Outlaw's fingerprints can be felt all over this record, as everything sounds so elegant and polished. But this is not nearly as sparse or as quiet as an Outlaw album, and this atmospheric production is the record's greatest strength, bringing the desert to life in mood more so than in lyrical content.
In the lyrical sense, this is somewhat reminiscent of Kacey Musgraves' Golden Hour. This may seem like a strange comparison at first, and the similarity is not stylistic; rather, it's in the way that this album, like Golden Hour, operates under the assumption that less is more, going for simple lyrics and instrumental breaks rather than elaborate stories and deeper songwriting.
There's a wistfulness running through this record that is captured by both the production and the lyrics. The whole thing comes across as Michaela Anne journeying through the desert searching for something tangible. She calls herself "everybody's temporary friend" in "Child of the Wind" as she drifts from town to town. In "Tattered, Torn, and Blue and Crazy," she's convinced that her current lover will one day leave her, as if it's impossible to imagine anyone ever staying, anything ever being permanent. "One Heart" conveys a similar feeling, as she seems to believe that love has ended before it's begun but chooses to go down this road anyway. "Run Away With Me" sees her on the move yet again, albeit this time not alone. She always seems to be searching, and unfortunately, nothing is ever resolved; she never really finds what she's looking for by the end of the album.
Despite the sweeping arrangements, Michaela Anne's voice is still the focal point. She's never drowned out, and this is fortunate because her vocals are certainly a strength of this record. Her melodies also work really well with the open, atmospheric vibes and enhance the wandering feeling.
This shift in sound has worked excellently well for Michaela Anne. These songs fit her voice nicely, and this style suits her lyrics. The decision to record this in California with the inspiration of the desert and the coast really paid off. If you enjoy records with a western feel, you'll definitely love Desert Dove.
Desert Dove is available today everywhere you buy or stream music.