Shana Cleveland’s last solo outing, Night of the Worm Moon, established her post-surf nocturnal songbook as something far beyond what she’d been doing with La Luz. The album was a sourball surprise that lived up to the notions of its title’s darkness. Four years later her follow-up is equally hung with a strange weight. Rooted in the months prior to and following the birth of her first child, the album is a slightly surreal seance that’s steeped in nature, existence, and enlightenment. The upheaval of birth and familial responsibilities lay alongside a haunting in the hillsides, a vernal feeling of newness coupled with a nagging notion of long entrenched spirits being awoken and hungry.
Manzanita is a distinctly West Coast record, but not in the sense of sunshine and sea breeze. Instead, the album is framed by the night, the canyon air, the weird magic that seems to hover over portions of the West. As with the first record, she’s reframed the inertia of surf into something nocturnal and adrift — a mirror image scene of serenity, a mapping of the undertow. I had to laugh out loud at press materials that state: “While pedal steel does appear here and there, this isn’t “Americana.” The steel cries on Manzanita, a lonesome lament that carries over the hills like an animal in search of hope or home. It’s not Americana, but it has certainly touched a few American ghosts along its path. Cleveland’s songs tumble along the faultiness of folk, here the steel feels closer to its Pacific Island heritage, mixing with tumbling guitars, twilight organ, and melancholy strings to create an album that shimmers like sea glass in the moonlight.
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