There is a photo studio in a sleepy neighborhood in Freehold, NJ, where for 12 years the hosts have been inviting artists to perform. The sound is terrific. The space is intimate. And my experience on a certain Saturday evening in February was memorable. That was the night Michaela Anne and her exceptional band came to this quiet town to perform for the capacity 50 people who came out on a rainy night to see her.
Michaela Anne is a roots/Americana artist that plays with a nod to a traditional country sound. Her voice is pure, and she is an accomplished songwriter. Bright Lights and the Fame, released in 2016 to critical acclaim, is a follow-up to her 2014 release, Ease My Mind, both worth checking out if you do not already own. Listening to it on vinyl, I feel, is more true to how it was probably meant to sound.
On show night, the band sets up on one end, with mics, speakers, amps and sound monitors spread out across decorative rugs. Lighting is a mixture of photo-studio strobes, and bulbs inside colored balloons. Folding chairs are brought out in tidy, neat rows for the audience. The space is small, but the audience, as well as the musicians, seem completely comfortable. It’s small enough that the drums are played with brushes for the most part, as not to overwhelm the sound.
Michaela Anne starts the evening solo, with her acoustic guitar that she would play the entire set, on an emotional “I’m Not Her”. The band joined her for “Living Without You”, and ran through a mix of songs from her last albums, cover versions, and even a new song called “You and Me”. Her band, notably guitarist Jeff Malinowski, who also produced the Ease My Mind album, were a perfect complement to Michaela Anne’s vocals. Highlights included “If Only”, “Lift Me Up”, “Worrying Mind”, and the title tracks to her last two albums. The set concluded with “Luisa”, a song she performed with Rodney Crowell in the studio version, going into country classics “Bluebird Wine” and “Luxury Liner”.
Throughout, Michaela Anne chatted comfortably with the audience, telling stories about her songs and her life. The audience was attentive, and appreciative of the performance, even if some weren’t as familiar with her music as some others were. Afterwards, we all shared in a potluck meal, where both audience members and musicians sampled dishes and talked about the joyous evening they just experienced.
Concerts in the Studio is hosted by Mark and Elaine Costanzo of Freehold, NJ.
Written By: Ron Louie