After releasing her second album, Americana singer and songwriter Michaela Anne moved from her home in Brooklyn, New York to Nashville. From the people she met, like Dave Brainard (producer for Brandy Clark, and co-writer of a couple of songs on the album) and Rodney Clawson, to the musical atmosphere of the large number of songwriters performing around the city, Anne’s move to Nashville influenced her writing for her third album, Bright Lights and the Fame. Even though Nashville is home to Music Row and the trend chasing mainstream labels, Bright Lights and the Fame doesn’t waver from the musical foundation Michaela Anne has built with her first two albums. Michaela Anne is firm with her neo-traditional country-style, and balances the album nicely with upbeat, dancing songs and slower, more introspective songs.
A guitar riff capped with a ring from the steel guitar kick of the mid-tempo “Living Without You.” Michaela Anne sings about trying to move on by herself after the end of a relationship. While nothing special, “Living Without You” sets the tone nicely for the album, immediately grabbing your interest with the production, and Anne’s excellent vocal delivery. The theme of a break up continues with “If Only.” It’s a quieter song in both the melody and vocals. Anne takes her time allowing the lyrics to breathe and story build steadily, making “If Only” the longest song on the album at nearly six minutes. The tempo jumps back up with the album’s title track. Here, Anne sings from the point of view of a wife married to a music man whose first love will always be the bright lights and the fame. The song is without a doubt a country two-stepper with the steel guitar present throughout the melody. “Everything I Couldn’t Be” finds Michaela Anne reminiscing about a past relationship when she learns that her ex is about to get married. The ballad begins slow with an acoustic guitar and faint steel guitar ring. But as she continues to sing and remember, the melody grows and soars behind Anne’s higher register.
Michaela Anne writes and sings more personally with the quick number “Won’t Go Down.” The song deals with the moral and ethical lines that she won’t cross when it comes to relationships, or life in general. Coming from a military household, Anne says the song is more autobiographical as she recalls the times she walked that line growing up. “Worrying Mind” deals with anxious thoughts and second (sometimes third) guessing decisions. The verses are balanced nicely between Anne’s vocals and the musical production, but the chorus seems to be hindered by a loud, overproduced melody while Anne’s vocals remain at the same level throughout the song.
“Easier Than Leaving” is another ballad where Anne sings from the point of view from the woman in a bad relationship. Even with everything wrong in this relationship, this woman can’t get herself to leave and start fresh. The lighter, acoustic production is well done on this song, as Michaela Anne’s vocals inflect nicely, reaching the highest note she can comfortably sing. Americana star Rodney Crowell provides vocal harmonies on “Luisa.” Together, they sing about a hitchhiker out west who’s looking to get back to Sacramento. To be honest, if the title didn’t mention “(featuring Rodney Crowell)” it’d be hard to know it was his vocals on the track, and it would have been nice to hear him take a verse. The melody of “Luisa” is excellent country music with a great solo in the middle of the song.
“What Good Is Water” is a darker song with a heavier production compared to the rest of the album. The song deals with a woman whose life appears to be in shambles at the moment, but she promises she’ll turn it around. The lyrics use imagery like a cactus dying and leaky faucet to paint the run-down picture, and Anne’s vocals stretch beyond her apparent comfort zone, but it’s done well. For many good reasons, “What Good Is Water” stands out on the album. Michaela Anne admitted that she wanted a fun, two-stepping song on the album, and so she wrote “Liquor Up.” The quick number is full of steel guitar and fiddle, and it certainly is a song ready for dance floor. Bright Lights and the Fame comes to a close with “Stars.” The song’s melody is quiet and subdued as Anne sings of a loved one’s death. She doesn’t sing of a specific person, but looks at the death in a positive way, remembering the good times, seeing that person in the stars, and always carrying their memory with her. “Stars” is a good song to end the album with as it is well written and well sung.
Overall, Bright Lights and the Fame is a good album from Michaela Anne. Admittedly, I think the first half of the album gets repetitive with several of the songs dealing with broken relationships and broken hearts. Those songs don’t offer much that’s new or original to topic, no matter how well produced some of them may be. The second half of the album is much better, showcasing a good variety from Michaela Anne’s songwriting and vocals. I think Michaela Anne is a singer and songwriter who is worth listening to, and should benefit from the growth of Americana music. Bright Lights and the Fame shows her potential and proves that she’s dedicated to growing and improving.