A gem of a record pairing an Americana icon with an up and coming star.
Maybe, just maybe, David Olney had saved his best-ever album until last. Having passed away on stage while performing at the 30A Songwriter Festival in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida from an apparent heart attack in January 2020, ‘Whispers and Sighs’, co-performed with the immensely talented Anana Kaye, shouldn’t be looked on as a posthumous tribute to a remarkably talented musician, but rather it should be viewed as a life-affirming homage to human connection.
The songs were written by a combination of Olney and Kaye along with Kaye’s husband and musical partner, Irakli Gabriel with contributions from John Hadley. ‘Whispers and Sighs’, creates a distinctive, aural panorama that blends the evocative sensuality of European music – both Kaye and her husband are from that well known Americana hotbed, the country of Georgia, with the raw power of Americana, merging full-on rock anthems like ‘Lie to Me, Angel’ and ‘Last Days of Rome’ with sparse, introspective ballads such as ‘Tennessee Moon’ and the record’s title track.
For those not overly familiar with Olney, in his younger days, he was befriended by Townes Van Zandt who sensed a special talent in him and now the roles appear to be reversed with Olney sensing a kindred spirit in Kaye and it’s easy to see why as she deploys that beautifully sultry voice on solo tracks such as ‘My Last Dream of You’ and while duetting with Olney on ‘Why Can’t We Get This Right’ and the pairing of the up and coming Eastern European starlet works with the worldly-wise Americana veteran works wonderfully well as they take turns leading the listener through intimate self-portraits, myths and tales of historical fiction all focused on dealing with our transience on this good planet.
While Olney’s voice has, unsurprisingly, lost some of its youthful power, he makes up for it with wonderful timing and superb vocal shading which is mesmerising to listen to and the contrast with Kaye’s youthful smoky tones has resulted in a masterful piece of work. It’s hard to escape the significance of the album as a posthumous Olney release, but at no point does this create an air of morbidity; rather, it lends the project a bittersweet ambiance. According to Anana and Irakli, mere moments after hitting save on the final mixes, the phone rang with news of Olney’s passing. This seems tragically fitting; for what is found on ‘Whispers and Sighs’ is a collection of songs into which two artists and friends clearly poured the full extent of their souls. Within it is an undeniable reminder that David Olney’s extraordinary legacy can never fade, while Anana Kaye’s star grows deservedly brighter by the day.