Editor’s Pick, Dec 2010/Jan 2011
Songs Worth The 99 Cents
“You can sing me something sweetly’ is the song’s hook – and precisely what Anthony does, with lilting vocals and life-embracing lyrics.” – Holly George-Warren
Is there a singer-songwriter in Austin more under-the-radar than Michelle Anthony? The Milwaukee transplant’s third disc, Tornadoes, is her first in four years due to motherhood – times two – and the development of HELLP syndrome, a life-threatening illness she fought after her first child’s birth. Time and trauma have served Anthony’s music well as she’s developed a mature pop sound that carries echoes of Aimee Mann and Sara Hickman, all lofty hooks and keen observations. With musical backing including Band of Heathens drummer John Chipman and Robbie Fulks’ guitarist Grant Tye, Anthony weaves a bright, winning spell on tunes like the speedy set opener “Spare Me” and potent kiss-off “Don’t Deny.” Her recent harrowing experience is faced down with radiant anthem “Beautiful” and the airy title track. Anthony’s tendency to be cloying in spots might turn off some ears, but Tornadoes’ strengths bring her out of the shadows. – Jim Caligiuri
MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL
As much as one misses the presence of Michelle Anthony in the Milwaukee music scene since she decamped for Austin in 2005, the move has been good for her. Her second solo album, 2006′s “Frozenstarpalace,” was an artistic step up, and her third, “Tornadoes,” continues the soft, sure ascent.
Not unlike her previous work, these 10 songs radiate a sense of warmth inside a surrounding atmosphere of chilliness: perhaps a partial reflection of her time in Milwaukee and her upbringing in Kansas City, but more an expression of a voice that has the still center of Sarah McLachlan and the hesitant, raw emotion of Aimee Mann.
With confident versatility, Anthony touches on instrumentally crowded pop-rock (“Spare Me”), maternally loving piano-based balladry (“Permanent”) and brooding, biting introspection (“Lights of Chicago”).
In sharp contrast to the title of the album, her music is a discriminate, precise whirlwind that leaves a path of beauty in its wake.- Jon M. Gilbertson
AUSTIN MUSIC + ENTERTAINMENT
Attractive female pop singers are a dime a dozen in the music industry, so it’s hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. Michelle Anthony knows this, of course, which is why Tornadoes works so much better than many of the releases by Anthony’s less-iconoclastic contemporaries. The album eschews the MIDI-overproduction that kill most modern pop albums for a rich collection of instruments and sounds, all buoyed by Anthony’s smoky, far-ranging voice.
“Spare Me” is a swaggering opening number that melds razor-toothed, distorted guitars, effusive shaker percussion and numerous, cascading Michelle-on-Anthony harmonies. The finale of the track is an eruption of slide guitar that feels a little like Billy Corgan’s work on Adore. Anthony’s lyric is as sophisticated as the arrangement: while the lyrics are telling someone to bug off, there are shades of guilt and an ambiguity that suggests the song’s narrator might not be as reliable or independent as he/she would think.
Like most music out of Austin, rock guitar takes a lot of spotlight on the record. But it isn’t the by-the-numbers distorted pentatonic scales that are so cliched coming from this city. The strings are full of twilight ambience and are informed by Anthony’s cosmic, ineffable voice and lyrical themes. Grant Tye’s lead work is a major highlight.
Anthony composed all of Tornadoes‘ songs by herself or with a few collaborators, and the songsmithing is composed and structurally sound on all ten tracks. The songs have meat on their bones but never outlast their welcome. The swaying between Anthony’s verses, choruses and bridges allow her to play with the melody throughout each song. Often this leads to blossoming climaxes of startling power, like on the piano-led, bruised “Yellow Harmony.”
There are no duff cuts on Tornadoes, and Anthony’s fans will pick and choose for themselves which are the highlights. One of my picks are the title track, which mixes a deft metaphor with a performance and production that recalls the best work of Aimee Mann. “January Singers” is particularly epic and disarming. Anthony’s lyrics capture nostalgia with a novelist’s attention to detail.
“Permanent” mixes the rollicking singer-songwriter feel of Carol King with a spastic, submerged guitar. The chorus soars effortlessly and tacks on a stick-in-your-head vocal refrain. “Lights of Chicago,” the record’s finale, features production effects that groan like the Earth’s shifting tectonic plates. Anthony’s words make the song an appropriate choice for the closer – “take this last song and say goodnight” – but it’s more than a gimmick. “Lights of Chicago” is a compendium of the moods and topics Michelle has been ruminating on the entire album. She doesn’t leave with any answers to her questions, but a sense of transcendence is hinted at before the song scrambles itself (and the album) into oblivion.
As I have been writing this review I’ve listened to Tornadoes over again, and songs that didn’t hit me as hard the first time around suddenly make my hairs stand on end. While there are immediate virtues available on the first listen, additional spins of Tornadoes reveal depths and secrets. This album is a grower and an instant pleasure in the same package. Michelle Anthony’s third record dropped right on the tail end, but it is one of the best Austin albums released in 2010.
Final Grade: ****1/2 (out of five)
Milwaukee first met Kansas City native Michelle Anthony via her band Capital 8, based here. When the band split, she started Stick Pony before embarking on a solo career.
Moving south to Austin, her star began to ascend thanks to two well-reviewed and well-received records — “Stand Fall Repeat” and “frozenstarpalace” — that led to great things, including an appearance on “Mountain Stage.”
Now, after a four-year break, during which time she became a mother (twice!) and had some health problems, Anthony is back on the scene with “Tornadoes,” released Nov. 2.
We asked her about the new CD and the past four years and when she expects to get back to Brew City. Click to read full article and interview!
It would be easy to lump Michelle Anthony in with other Lilith Fair-type singer songwriters who are more her contemporaries than her influences. You can follow her roots to a Midwestern upbringing and hear a vocal styling and song craft more akin to Karen Carpenter and Carole King.
Tornadoes, her third and hard-won release, took four years to write and record. The record presents a portrait of an artist who, as she says in “Lights of Chicago” isn’t ”singing just to sing,” but has been through some storms and come out the other side into the blue sky.
Anthony and husband/songwriting partner Scott Anthony have become parents and had to deal with life threatening illness in those four years. They chose to make this album a permanent testimonial to that struggle. In return Anthony has left behind most of the Austin, Texas-inspired country rock sound of her previous releases in favor of songs like the poppy “Spare Me,” and the radio ready “Don’t Deny.”
Choosing Tornadoes as the title of her third album might make you think that Austin performing songwriter Michelle Anthony had emerged from a fairly tumultuous period in her life — and you’d be right. But she also describes Tornadoes (November 2) as a “thankful” record, a theme that shines through her new songs like an unwavering beam of light. Following the birth of her child, Anthony was afflicted by a life-threatening illness, a difficult time made even more harrowing as she contemplated the possibility of not being there for her young son. Survival brought joyful relief but as she returned to the studio for the first time in four years she realized that the experience in all of its emotional depths and plateaus was profoundly affecting.
A Texas transplant by way of Milwaukee, Anthony brings to her music as much unmannered heartland pop energy as Austin-inflected twang. Lead track “Spare Me” sounds as if Chrissie Hynde had opted to front Fleetwood Mac instead of the Pretenders, a steady rhythmic pulse giving way to a glistening shower of chiming guitars, fuzz-toned bass lines and Anthony’s crystalline vocal harmonies. “Permanent”, one of four songs written for her son, moves with an Aimee Mann/Sarah McLachlan vocal intonation and catchy chorus hook. But it’s the title track that most purely exemplifies the best of Tornadoes: exquisitely turned melodic phrases that ring gracefully, forcefully but without a trace of showy pretense.
PENS EYE VIEW (Interview)Click to read the interview
Michelle Anthony has released her third full length album Tornadoes, easy on the ears it combines Michelle’s empathetic vocals and writing with several tracks inspired by the birth of her son.
“I wrote ‘Permanent’ for him. I was pretty scared during the first months of my son’s life. I was so worried I wouldn’t be here for him. I wanted to leave him something more meaningful than material things for him to remember me by. I wanted him to have my voice and words, should he ever need them, so I left him a song. I’d never really focused much on writing in a positive light, probably because I thought it would sound silly or forced. On this record, I wrote more autobiographically and if I felt amazingly happy, rather than doubt it, I just went with it.”
For Tornadoes Anthony has enlisted some quality support in the form of drummer John Chipman (Band of Heathens), guitarist Grant Tye (Robbie Fulks), Anthony also plays keyboards with The Silos when they perform in Austin and featured on their recent album.