On Sunday, April 28, at approximately 7:00 pm indie artist Michael-Ann opened for singer-songwriter Joan Osborne at The Canyon Club in Agoura Hills, CA. The L.A.-based performer has been involved in dramatic productions such as “Woody Guthrie’s American Song”- (a touring show about the life of Woody Guthrie), and “Sweet Bye and Bye”. Sometimes compared to the likes of Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt, she has also sung with other artists such as Ricky Skaggs, The Rainmakers and the Ravens as well as appeared at various venues across the country including: the Santa Clarita Performing Arts Center, The Coach House, The Hotel Cafe, The Viper Room, The Cat Club, The Derby, Genghis Cohen and other clubs.
Once again your rather reclusive writer was forced to brave the real world sans sexy sidekick. It was one of those nights and despite an early departure unexpected, unplanned events occurred to impede your rarely rovin’ reporter’s progress. Between a defective Discover card and a freeway full of folks who nearly failed the driving test, the lyrical lady Michael-Ann –backed by Craig Ferguson (dobro and mandolin) and Randy Mitchell (guitar and slide guitar)– had already taken the stage by the time yours truly stepped into the appropriately dimly lit, atmospheric venue.
One could still plainly see that there was quite a mélange of music fans in attendance at Michael-Ann’s appearance. There was a mix of young and old, the brave and the bold, patrons partaking in meals and sexy gals in high heels. There were waitresses in boots and grey-haired coots, leather jacketed-ladies and old people with Mercedes. (“Mercedi?” What is the plural for Mercedes?)
At any rate, regular readers know full well that your perpetually penned-up penman doesn’t provide a song-by-song analysis because he actually attempts to enjoy live gigs rather than document them in detail. Nevertheless, there were memorable moments in Michael-Ann’s performance to be sure. Highlights of the evening included a mix of covers and original material such as a refreshing bluegrass tune titled “Bumble Bee” and “Bring It On Home” which she has previously performed with The Ozark Mountain Thrush.
She brought singer-guitarist Susan Sheller up onstage to join in on a 1963 Johnny and June Carter-Cash co-composition called “Ring of Fire”. The dueting damsels did right by the classic cut. The “gal in black” did “the man in black” quite well in fact.
She fast forwarded a bit from there to the late 1980s performing her own rich rewrite of a Tom Petty piece “Alright for Now”. (To be honest, bereft of his femme fatale “photog”, your often socially-awkward author had to corral the courage to question the tunefully-talented Michael-Ann about the forgotten Tom track before quickly blending back into the woodwork..) The second set yielded more noteworthy numbers including an unexpected cover of a tune from 1939 “You Are My Sunshine” led by Sheller. She joins an impressive group of vocalists who have covered the cut including Bing Crosby and Gene Autry.
Although this was your rockin’ reviewer’s first exposure to Michael-Ann, she certainly seemed to enjoy the event despite multiple mentions of “flying by the seat of (their) pants”. Hey! A sense of humor in the music industry is pretty much a prerequisite and a bit of impromptu execution in a performance is extremely interesting if not actually essential.
Indeed, the chatting diners had early on ceased their incessant chatter and settled in for the sagebrush songstress and her faithful companions’ covers of classics by the Allman Brothers’ “Midnight Rider” and “Whipping Post” (both led by Sheller) as well as The Rolling Stones’ “Honky Tonk Woman”. While some might think this was a bit out there, in truth, a “honky tonk woman” was originally a dancing girl in a western bar so this fit in quite well with the overall theme of the show. She kept the crowd entertained until shortly after 9:00 p.m. when Osborne took the stage.
Honestly, your screwy scribe lost track of Osborne between the successes of “One Of Us” (written by The Hooters’ Eric Bazilian) and her Grammy-nominated cover disc Bring It On Home. While the focus here is on the up-and-comer Michael-Ann, one couldn’t help but appreciate Osborne’s cover of Billie Holiday’s hit “God Bless The Child” and (a personal favorite) Bob Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love” which has previously been covered by Billy Joel, Garth Brooks and Adele. (Yes, of course, Osborne also sang her gold record “One of Us” with a live treatment that made it almost appropriately hymn-like.)
Overall, the evening, which ended with an optional meet-and-greet shortly after 10:00 p.m., was a success. Michael-Ann left an impression despite being Osborne’s opening act. Michael-Ann has something that just might find her headlining in Osborne’s place. In fact, don’t be surprised if one day your indie-inspired author one day writes about Michael-Ann’s opening act.
My name is Phoenix and . . . that’s the bottom line.