Diamonds are created by pressure – when the Earth pushes down hard enough, minerals crack open, and diamonds are fused together. In a way, that’s what has happened with Shana Cleveland’s new album ‘Manzanita’; life has pushed down, and rather than buckle she’s pushed back, producing a diamond in the process.
Known for her role in La Luz, ‘Manzanita’ is a solo record fuelled by real-life sh*t – moving to the country, for one, and starting a family, for another. She’s also dealt with breast cancer, halting activities last year to undergo a successful spell of treatment. All this and more pepped the record, a lush yet spartan song cycle that moves from lysergic folk to baroque aspects, all held together by West Coast sunsets and the lingering touch of her family.
At times reminiscent of Jessica Pratt – or even feted folkies such as Anne Briggs or psych-pop troubadour Kevin Ayers – ‘Manzanita’ has a stunning, other-worldly charm. ‘A Ghost’ is a suitably atmospheric opener, the naked recording capturing everything, right down to the slip of her fingers on the frets. A voice from beyond, it’s followed by the warming ‘Bloom’ and the neo-orchestral ‘Faces In The Firelight’, a message of love and support to her then-unborn son and long-term partner.
A record of real subtle, ‘Manzanita’ is laden with surprises. There’s the Morricone feel of ‘Babe’ for example, conjuring widescreen landscapes; ‘Sheriff Of The Salton Sea’ is akin to a Ribbie Basho soli, while the frosted ‘Quick Winter Sun’ puts you in mind or Bert Jansch, or his friend John Renbourne’s baroque aspects.
Lyrically, the album represents one of Shana Cleveland’s most daring and open song cycles. Yet it’s not all personal revelation – there’s a surreal element to the narrative cycle, with ‘Mayonnaise’ for example pausing to doff its cap to cult American author Richard Brautigan.
Opening in the haunted twilight, ‘Manzanita’ comes to a close with the sun-dappled pastoral scenes of ‘Walking Through Morning Dew’. A song of hope, and embracing the moment, it’s a suitably inspired way to climax a record that truly seeps under your skin.
Words: Robin Murray