Michaela Anne: Desert Dove

Michaela Anne
Desert Dove
(Yep Roc)
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

 An album’s production isn’t everything, but it’s a lot. Even the best producers can’t do much good if the songs aren’t there. But if they are, as on this, Michaela Anne’s third full length and first for North Carolina’s Yep Roc imprint, then the producer can enhance the material, shifting it from terrific to even better, and in some cases spectacular.

 That’s not to downplay Anne’s sparkling vocals and thoughtful original Americana combining singer-songwriter, country and shimmering, tuneful West Coast pop. But, enhanced by the sympathetic work of co-producers Sam Outlaw and Delta Spirit’s multi-instrumentalist Kelly Winrich, these 11 tunes envelop the listener with their full, often lush, widescreen qualities.

 It’s immediately apparent as Kristin Weber’s strings gradually swell on the opening “By Our Design,” then punctuate the melody throughout. They transform the tune into a bold statement about a couple’s life lived outside the norms. There’s a dreamy, gauzy yet compelling quality to the disc’s first half that seems influenced by some of Chris Isaak’s similarly mysterious work. It’s in the rock guitar solo that emerges out of the ballad “One Heart” and in the strings with plush backing vocals that elevate the sweeping “Child of the Wind” from a simple song about the singer’s love of wanderlust to a major statement you’ll immediately push repeat on.

 The dramatic “Somebody New” tells of a relationship on the skids where “Love runs out/ Before one side figures it out.” Its soundscape is dynamic with overdubbed backing vocals and beautifully layered sound. The pure honky-tonk ballad “Two Fools” takes us back to the days of George Jones with sobbing pedal steel and a vocal reminiscent of Loretta Lynn in her prime.

 The sparse solo acoustic “Be Easy” closes out the stunning Desert Dove, a splendid album that nimbly navigates footing on the tricky balancing act between Michaela Anne’s stellar performance, her striking material and superb production.