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Michael-Ann: Girls Rock

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Michael-Ann is a noteworthy L.A.-based singer-songwriter/guitarist who still recollects learning to play the guitar courtesy of her “friend's musical family in the Ozarks of Missouri.” The guitar on which she learned had “strings 1/2" off the fret" which made her musical education “a painful but rewarding experience.”

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She studied classical voice in high school and college and after years of playing regularly with her “extended family” she soon yearned to ply her future trade in Nashville. While there she would catch the eye of more than one record label but chose instead to broaden her horizons with world travel. Eventually she would return to the US where she worked in numerous theatrical productions such as New York's "Woody Guthrie's American Song" (a touring show about the life of Woody Guthrie). She would also have her own original music used in the play "Sweet Bye and Bye".

Michael Ann has performed with a plethora of performers including: Ricky Skaggs, The Rainmakers and the Ravens. She has also opened for the likes of Mark Chesnutt, Don McLean, Joan Osborne, Kenny Rogers and Blake Shelton. She has appeared at such venerable venues as The Canyon Club, The Coach House, Genghis Cohen, The Hotel Cafe, Ranch Party, Room 5, The Saban Theater, Santa Clarita Performing Arts Center, Three of Clubs and The Viper Room.

She has been featured on several compilation albums and more importantly her new disc, Heavy Load, is receiving airplay on different radio stations across the globe. Heavy Load is twelve tracks of Michael-Ann’s personal blend of the lady’s “ABC”s: Americana, Bluegrass and Country.

Something worth noting from the start is that unlike some gals with guitars, Michael-Ann doesn’t put down her acoustic guitar in the recording studio. She straps it on and tunefully takes charge with her guitars and other instruments.

She is ably assisted by an assortment of other artists including: co-producer and guitarist Randy Ray Mitchell (Donna Summer, Billy Bob Thronton), drummer Erik Eldenius (Billy Idol, Lee Ann Rhimes), multi-instrumentalist Dennis Caplinger (Nickel Creek, Vince Gill) and banjo and guitar player Mark Christian (Cher, Robert Palmer). She is also backed by Phil Palapiano (Carlene Carter, John Prine) on accordion and keys, Taras Prodanuik (Merle Haggard, Richard Thompson) on bass, Dave Pearlman (Michelle Shocked, The Long Ryders) on pedal steel, Vic Koler (Neil Diamond, The Doors’ John Desmore) on upright bass and backing vocals by Amilia K. Spicer and guest artist Susan Sheller.

The new disc opens on “Any Day”. It’s always important that the lead-in serve as an apropos introduction to an artist’s signature sound. This fits the bill well and sets the tone in a tuneful tale of typical travails. She’s not really bemoaning her fate though so much as surviving through song.

The second serving is the titular track “Heavy Load.” The theme continues in this hillbilly hit reminiscent of early Linda Ronstadt who is an admitted inspiration. It’s highlighted by backing vocals from guest artists the CALICO the band.

The next number is “Mama’s Sleepin’” which yours truly was turned on to quite some time ago thanks to Michael-Ann. It not only has a familiar feel to it because your rockin’ reviewer was privy to a preview but also because it runs true to certain tenants of the genre.

“Hard to Breathe’ follows. It’s a sad song with a mellow feel as she sings: “I will get over you.” (That’s what she said—sadly.) This is one of those expected songs about a failed relationship as seen through the eyes of a woman who is trying to be strong. Still, Michael-Ann owns it, makes it hers and doesn’t disappoint.

“Nevermind” might bring to mind a classic disc by Nirvana but in reality it’s another original Michael-Ann cut on which she takes a melodic moment to offer a lyrical lesson perhaps from one gal to another or in truth to anyone who has had a less than perfect track record in life.

“Bumble Bee” is one of her best because Michael-Ann makes it even more entertaining when she performs it live. It’s fun and refreshing despite the story. Still, the studio spit and polish does give this analogical bluegrass bit about a one-sided relationship a slightly different, fuller sound. It features Aubrey Richmond on fiddle.

The seventh selection is “Trail of My Tears” which simply by title alone begs more comparisons to the likes of classic crooners like Ronstadt. As one listens her particularly noteworthy vocal work here invites additional favorable comparisons. It’s simply a really nice number.

Everything really works well together on “I Would” which is a pretty piece composed for her kids. “Heaven” comes next here. Not to be confused with the 1983 number by Bryan Adams, this is yet another of her originals and features Gabriel Witcher (Punch Brothers) on fiddle.

“Troubles to the Wind” is an early favorite of both fans and critics. It certainly seems to end just a tad too soon when one listens to it.

“Bring It On Home” is the only song here not written by Michael-Ann. It’s a beautiful song that she truly owns when she plays it live although it’s actually written by Eric Nelson. She originally performed it with the Ozark Mountain Thrush. It still really works well so she keeps it in her repertoire.

“What Don’t Kill Ya” has got some energy to it and an effective, underlying message. It is perfectly, parenthetically placed on the CD as an exceptional album end-note. From the opening cut to the final note, this is obviously a work that holds special significance to her. Michael-Ann happily offered some personal insight: "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."

It’s been said before but bears repeating--when Michael-Ann gets onstage her “down home” sound sets a tone. Suddenly you feel like you’re just hangin’ out with a pretty gal with a guitar who’s pickin’ and singin’ while you’re drinkin’ and grinnin’. Ya just gotta love that.

Pick up Michael-Ann’s Heavy Load and “Bring It On Home” . . . “I Would.”

My name is Phoenix and . . . that’s the bottom line.

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