Michaela Anne “Oh To Be That Free”

Yep Roc Records, 2022

Nashville based songwriter sharpens up the words whilst smoothing down the music.

Since releasing ‘Desert Dove’ in 2019 Michaela Anne has been through a great deal. Her new record ‘Oh to Be That Free’ although written before the life-changing events she has experienced, are closely related to them. Following the greater recognition that ‘Desert Dove’ brought to her, Anne struggled with the related issues of the isolation of the pandemic and attempting to overcome it with alcohol. The recording of her new record with friends and with her husband Aaron Shafer-Haiss co-producing helped her to overcome what she described as “shameful self-destruction”. The songs on the album reflect the honesty and self-realisation with which Anne examines herself, her flaws and her struggle to validate herself. It’s an album that looks inward, contemplates, and ultimately seeks healing. These are a purgative and cathartic set of songs.

Five months after Michaela Anne became pregnant with her first child, her mother suffered a catastrophic stroke. She then spent the latter part of her pregnancy caring for her mother. The joy and pain of these two events brought new meaning to the words she had so recently recorded. “It’s kind of surreal the way this record turned out to be exactly what I needed to hear when I was at my lowest…These songs became healers, almost as if I’d written them as letters to my future self”. The songs took on a new context and a new meaning “In the many days and months I sat by my mother’s bedside in the hospital, not knowing if she’d ever be able to speak, walk or resemble her former self, I sang these songs to her, as well as to the baby growing in my belly, over and over”.

The recordings themselves have a lighter sound than the more organic folksy sound of her earlier records. That process got underway with ‘Desert Dove’. Here the brakes are off completely. The production is slick, smooth and sometimes even lush. However, that doesn’t represent a dumbing down, far from it in fact. The serenity of the music provides a perfect platform for the velvet expression of Anne’s lustrous voice highlighting just how exceptional it is. The smoothed off musical edges serve only to sharpen the impact of Anne’s voice and bring into clear focus the knotty issues examined in her candid songwriting.

Making a more accessible album like this, Michaela Anne will quite likely broaden her fanbase. I can’t see how those that enjoy Kacey Musgraves for instance, wouldn’t also like this. There will be some that lament Anne’s ‘abandonment’ of her folk and bluegrass roots. However, the quality of her songwriting is higher than ever and so long as that remains the case, does it matter too much what clothes she decides to dress those songs in? As it happens these ones suit them very well.


About Clint West 319 Articles
From buying my first record aged 10 and attending my first gig at 14, music has been a lifelong obsession. A proud native of Suffolk, I have lived in and around Manchester for the best part of 30 years. My idea of a perfect day would be a new record arriving in the post in the morning, watching Ipswich Town win in the afternoon followed by a gig and a pint with my mates at night,
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