November 2009 Web Edition Issue #3
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Michael-Ann Azouli sings and plays guitar. I first saw her perform as a guest vocalist working with David Paul Campbell at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano circa 2007 or so, when they opened for James McMurtry, but I had lost track of her. Our well-beloved Editor Jessie Lilley assigned this writer the task of covering Michael-Ann. I made first contact one Tuesday night at The Cowboy Palace Saloon, in Chatsworth, where we exchanged cards and she gave me her CD “Heavy Load.” But I was pressed for time and could not stay for the show.
Listening to the CD provided a richly satisfying study in authentic Americana and Classic Country, with touches of folk and bluegrass. Michael-Ann has been playing guitar some twenty years. But watching her play as she performs live, one would think she has been playing since she was four or five, as she has such easy facility with the acoustic guitar.
These musicians, Randy Ray Mitchell, Dennis Caplinger, Dave Pearlman, Phil Parlapiano, Taras Prodaniuk, Erik Eldenius, Vic Koler, Susan Sheller, the member s of Calico the Band, Mark Christian, Evan Smalley, Amilia K. Spicer, Gabriel Wichter, all turn in pitch-perfect performances in the backing role. Michael-Ann’s very distinctive voice croons, soars, glides, sidles, and resonates with heart-felt power modulated by great smoothness. The instrumentation is often lush but never overbearing. The album's spare instrumentation distinguishes this music from what I can hear on FM-105.1, where the ghost of Phil Spector and his infamous “wall of sound” provides a sonic density that some ears eventually find wearisome, mine included.
Bakersfield, Austin, Branson, or Nashville could be the home of most of this music, which sprang up here with Michael-Ann in Los Angeles. If one were driving straight through from L.A. to Idaho Falls, Rock Springs, or Santa Fe, in one epic sojourn, this would be one of the CDs to bring along to energize the trip.
A few tunes feature Randy Mitchell playing baritone guitar, a nice touch occasionally employed by Dwight Yoakam, James McMurtry, Steve Earle, and others. Would that more musicians worked this instrument into their offerings, for the baritone guitar has such a distinctive timbre, that seems to complement country music particularly well.
Listening to this album provides a fine tour of Americana and Classic Country style. Banjo, fiddle, resonator guitar, mandolin, and the aforesaid occasional baritone guitar supply a deep foundation of authenticity on which these lovely songs are built. All but Bring It On Home are Michael-Ann’s; Eric Nelson wrote that one. The title track Heavy Load really stands out among other fine tunes. Some of these songs belong on Country Radio.
On October 29th, I found Michael-Ann at the dinner club Sadie in Hollywood, following and accompanied by Fiddle and Pine, a lively folk art trio. These three grads of Cal Arts put on a lively and riveting show of hoe-down bluegrass, with covers and originals for their first set. Abby Posner carries most of the vocals, though bassist Jesse Olema and fiddler Graham Chapman also pitch in on some tunes.
Mr. Chapman conceded, after the second set, that he is not a stranger to the legendary Django Reinhardt’s violin sidekick, Stephane Grapelli, for he played some mean gypsy fiddle. At the end of the first set, Michael-Ann joined them for a second and final set.
Though the crowd was thinning, the four players put on a game and spirited performance, including some tunes from the CD, some Fiddle & Pine originals, and such country chestnuts as Jolene. Distinctive though Michael-Ann’s voice is, on some tunes she might be mistaken for Parton or McBride. I was sad when the show had to end at 10:30, but some places keep earlier hours than others. I want to hear the next show she plays, for Michael-Ann always delivers smooth, heartfelt Americana tunes, often with a folk lilt.