Sunday, September 25, 2016

Is It A Lost Early Bonnie Raitt Album? No, It's Floodlights By Anna Ash!

The Good: Impressive vocal range, Decent musical accompaniment, Some of the lyrics
The Bad: Vocals quickly become familiar, Somewhat indistinct tunes, SHORT!
The Basics: Floodlights is an album that has a lot going for it on the technical merits, but is too mellow to impress.

Lately, I have been trying to find new artists that I might enjoy. This search stems from finding myself largely unimpressed by most new acts I listen to and review and realizing that the bulk of my music library is filled with albums to which I have very visceral reactions and distinct memories. So, I have been looking for new artists to enjoy for the new phases of my life and the future. That has involved me putting in a lot of new (to me) music from artists that I have no prior knowledge of when I pop the album in and absolutely no preconceptions as to what I am getting into by exploring their album. So, when I put in Floodlights by Anna Ash, I had no notion of what it was I would hear.

Given that I have been listening to a lot of tragically overproduced musical works lately, I was initially impressed by the raw vocals of Anna Ash on Floodlights. There is no mistaking Anna Ash's lilting soprano vocals for anything other than a raw, real, human voice. But the more times I listened to Floodlights, the more I realized that the album had its moments - it starts and ends well, but in the end I pretty consistently drifted out and found myself listening to "Slow Hand" by The Pointer Sisters in my head. I do not think I have ever had a musical experience quite like that before, where I begin engaged, tune out to a completely different work (the same one each time!) in my head, then get snapped back for a pretty magnificent final song. And yet, that is my Floodlights experience in a nutshell.

With only ten songs clocking out at 35:27, the biggest strike against Floodlights is that it is dismally short. That said, Floodlights does appear to be very much the creative work of artist Anna Ash. Ash wrote nine of the ten songs and provides all of the primary vocals on Floodlights. Anna Ash also plays the primary guitar on her songs; the only major credit she is not given is producing Floodlights.

Instrumentally, Floodlights is a slow, mellow Country album with a very classic Country sound. The vocals are accompanied - never overwhelmed - by the guitar, bass, soft drums, and the pedal steel and occasional piano. The songs are all slow and vaguely melodic in a way that made me realize that while it was competent musical accompaniment, it was very limited. There is a very generic sound to the way instruments are used on Floodlights; none of it is bad, but there are no musical moments on the album where one could easily pick out the tune from the guitar and bass; the music just seems to keep time for Anna Ash.

Anna Ash has an impressive voice on Floodlights. Up until "Floodlights" (the final song on the album) Anna Ash presents a birdlike soprano voice that is high and clear. Ash holds notes with a technical proficiency that is instantly enough to wow anyone raised on popular music over the last ten years; the natural voice is distinct and beautiful. But what made "Floodlights" such a good album closer was the contrast it offered to the rest of the album. Ash goes into her lower registers and sings quieter on "Floodlights" in such a way that it grabs the listener, long before the backing vocals come in to join her. I realized that part of what was making me check out in the middle of Floodlights was that Ash's high pitch vocals start right off the bat hitting the high notes like few artists can and she stays in the superhuman registers without varying the sound. "What You Didn't Say" and "Floodlights" both show range; the rest of Floodlights has a homogeneous sound that quickly becomes - for lack of a better term - mundane to the ear.

Lyrically, most of Floodlights is preoccupied with relationships. "Holding Out" is a standout in that it makes musical the pressures of daily life and work. The songs tend to have some interesting lines and I was impressed that "Fruits Of My Labor" (the album's lone cover song) did not stand out in a way that made it seem like it had an incongruent level of poetry or diction.

Ultimately, Floodlights is more average than it is either extraordinary or underwhelming and Anna Ash has a formidable voice and a lot of potential. That potential is not fully realized on Floodlights.

The best song is "Floodlights," the low point is "Savior Of The Year."

For other albums, please check out my reviews of:
No Word From Tom - Hem
Educated Guess - Ani DiFranco
Wicked Little High - Bird York


For other music reviews, please check out my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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