Wisconsin folk songstress Anna Vogelzang hits pay dirt with Canary in a Coal Mine, her first release since 2010, and quite possibly her best collection ever.
The songs on Anna Vogelzang’s new album, Canary in a Coal Mine, are disarmingly simple in their approach. From lullaby opener "Undertow", to the dueling imagery of placidity and explosiveness in "Volcanoes", to clear-eyed closer "Birdfeeders", each set of images feels fresh and understated. "I come home broken, bruised like a peach / You make a fruit pie, and two whiskeys neat -- like summertime," she intones on the opening track, setting the stage for an album packed with surprising turns and meaningful moments.
The exquisite lyrical craftsmanship on Canary in a Coal Mine is matched by Vogelzang's incredible vocal range, evoking everyone from Regina Spektor to Ani DiFranco, shifting between delicate lilt and evocative howl at will. Behind her vocals is a series of strong arrangements and musical performances from a stable of incredible performers; personnel from the Hold Steady, Dresden Dolls, and Blondie collaborate to create a full-bodied folk-pop sound that few albums this year -- folk, pop, or otherwise -- will match.
Vogelzang writes mainly about relationships. "Texas" is a near-acapella opera of heartbreak that Amanda Palmer is kicking herself for not writing first. "One & Only" is a folk/doo-wop hybrid love song with trumpets and multi-tracked vocals that's just as crazy as it sounds, and twice as awesome. “When You Go” is about the inevitability of leaving, and "Whiskey Drawn" is a sly kiss-off to a former lover: "You will never own the stars / Sad moonshine eyes in every bar - so keep drinkin'." Whether inviting her exes to alcoholism or sweetly recalling new affections, Vogelzang doesn’t idealize or demonize relationships. Her tales of lost love and future hope are like photographs, a series of objects, shades, and colors presented in beautiful, objective detail. It's for the viewer to determine what everything means. To me, Vogelzang’s songwriting is much like that canary in a coal mine: representative of hope and disaster in equal measure.