The Award winning artist pays homage to her musical roots in the Ozarks
If you’ve not yet heard of Michael-Ann, you certainly will. The artist has opened for music heavies Kenny Rogers, Blake Shelton, Joan Osborne, Mark Chesnutt and Don McLean, and was involved in “Woody Guthrie’s American Song” (a touring show about the life of Woody Guthrie) and has featured music in the play, “Sweet Bye and Bye”.
Michael-Ann’s new record, Heavy Load will definitely appeal to fans of traditional Country and Bluegrass music, and still keep devotees of Americana music happy. The 12-song record laces the three genres to build a creative mix of sophisticated, heartfelt lyrics that leaves you with a back porch downhome feel. Just pre-released digitally, the physical record will release on August 19th, 2014.
Growing up in Kansas City, Michael-Ann embraces the salt-of-the-earth aesthetics of the Ozarks that is not often found in her adopted home of Los Angeles. Heavy Load is a tribute to those roots and a long time in the making. Without going into detail she says, “It was a long journey and I’m grateful for that journey.” Calling the process a “blessing in disguise”, the artist tells Riveting Riffs that the delay was kismet. “I’ve never quite reached what I wanted in previous recordings for these songs,” she says, “finally, with the players on this record, I feel I have reached that. It’s such a great feeling.”
Michael-Ann had no trouble assembling players to jump aboard. The album includes several masters of craft, including Gabe Witcher (Punch Brothers) lending fiddle to the song “Heaven”. Helping to produce and also play guitar is Randy Ray Mitchell (Donna Summers, Billy Bob Thornton); Erik Eldenius (Lee Ann Rhimes, Billy Idol) on drums, Dennis Caplinger (Nickel Creek, Vince Gill) on dobro, mandolin, banjo and fiddle; Mark Christian (Cher, Robert Palmer) on guitar and banjo; Phil Palapiano (John Prine, Carlene Carter) on Accordion/keys; Taras Prodanuik (Richard Thompson, Merle Haggard) on bass; and Dave Pearlman (Michelle Shocked, The Long Ryders) on Pedal Steel; Vic Koler (Neil Diamond, John Desmore of the Doors) and backing vocals added by Susan Sheller, Amilia K. Spicer and the ladies from CALICO the band.
As a young adult, Michael-Ann was kindly "adopted" (not literally, but figuratively speaking) by a good friend's family from the Ozarks of Missouri.and spent a lot of time at their house where they would put on a show every weekend. Saturday nights had the family performing country, bluegrass and gospel songs. Inspired by this, the young artist decided to learn guitar. The guitar she acquired had strings ½” off the fret and heavy gauge strings. With bleeding fingers, she would question how anyone ever learned to play guitar, but she so desperately wanted it that she persevered. Now she laughs, “I eventually learned that there were other people with guitars and the strings were a bit closer to the fret board.” The songs she learned to play in the Ozarks really struck a chord in her soul with their honesty and genuiness, which is a quality she carries on to her own records.
Michael-Ann has sung on projects for many others and has put out a live EP, but Heavy Load is her first full-length CD. The title song is what she calls her “Piéce de Résistance”and is the song that garners the most response. Honoring her Ozark musical roots the song is more classical country and bluegrass and the lyrics reflect the difficult time she was going through when she wrote it “Seems to me I’m in need of healing…Well you’ve got to help a troubled soul…”
The sound of the song, “Hard to Breathe” is more reminiscent of traditional country music and draws on lost love as its subject, “Weren’t we supposed to be together…Why can’t true love last forever?” “Mama’s Sleepin” has a Tennessee Mountain feel and broaches the painful subject of an adult who suffered through child abuse, “Well, I married a man a lot like you…Well, he treated me mean, yeah he treated me cruel…” The song, “I Would” is a beautiful love letter to her children, while Bumble Bee” is an exhilarating bluegrass tune that uses a bee harvesting pollen as an analogy to a one-sided relationship.
Starting off in folk-rock, Michael-Ann returned to her Ozark roots when she noticed that there were a lot of folk rock singers and wanted to create music that was still true, but more unique. As far as pigeon-holing artists, she says, “I think the Americana music genre houses a lot of what I would term ‘genuine’ roots music. I wish music wasn’t motivated by a formula to please the masses, but a formula to touch the soul. There will always be seekers and artists and that’s a good thing.”
Calling herself an “Americana/Country artist with some Linda Ronstadt and Patty Loveless tossed in for good measure, “ Michael-Ann explains her philosophy, “I just hope to convey a truth in my music of my roots and background. I hope to touch people spiritually, not just perform.” Thinking on it, she adds, “ If people can have some sort of transcendence in heart or soul--a joy or catharsis through my music, then I think I’ve done my job.”