Shana Cleveland – Manzanita – Album Review
by Cathy Brown
Shana Cleveland, frontwoman with LA surf-rockers La Luz, has released her third solo album Manzanita, following on from 2019’s Night of the Worm Moon. She calls the album a ‘supernatural love album set in the California wilderness’ and it was written and recorded while Cleveland was pregnant and subsequently became a new mother.
A strong psychedelic vein runs through the album, with Cleveland picking out woozy, unpredictable chord progressions and embracing a more cinematic sound. ‘Babe’ could feature on the soundtrack of a Sergio Leone movie with its expressive, grandiose Morricone feel. ‘Ten Hours Drive through West Coast Disaster’ embraces the world of old-school vaudeville, with the spoken word lyrics and natural background sounds, while the music-hall piano of ‘Mayonnaise’ brings to mind mid-career Tom Waits. The dream-like, looping vibe of ‘Evil Eye’ and ‘Mystic Mine’ are grounded in a humming cello, which underpins layers of exquisitely played guitar, one of the main strengths of the album.
Manzanita is clearly more than the sum of its parts, made to be consumed as a whole thanks to some striking instrumental incidentals, which give the album space to breathe. There is the brief zip of ‘Bloom’, the glistening synths of ‘Light on the Water’ and the standout ‘Sheriff of the Salton Sea’ which is as good a showcase for Cleveland’s finger-picking guitar playing as you are likely to get anywhere.
The best tracks though are those that have been released as singles, the layered, loose feel of ‘A Ghost’ with its dark undertones and the Laurel Canyon-esque current single, ‘Faces in the Firelight’.
These are luscious, beautifully layered songs, that bring a depth and complexity to what, at first listen, might seem achingly simple. There is so much to enjoy on this album – from insightful lyrics to lush instrumentation, intimate arrangements to sweeping melodies – all executed with an infectious and irresistible openness. As the album plays out with the otherworldly ‘Walking through Morning Dew’, the listener has fallen under Cleveland’s beguiling spell, proving that Manzanita is her most accomplished work to date.
Categories: Album Reviews, Header, Music
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