Mikaela Davis
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Mikaela Davis Creates a New Blueprint for ‘And Southern Star’

Mikaela Davis builds her latest LP as a progression, moving further into rock territory as if demonstrating across an album the fluidity of genre and her art.

And Southern Star
Mikaela Davis
Kill Rock Stars
4 August 2023

Over the past few years, Mikaela Davis has been working to blend the sounds of her harp into styles less traditionally associated with the classical instrument. Her success, which moves forward a step on her new album And Southern Star, lies not in juxtaposition or weirdness (as indie music has often done when incorporating or featuring the harp). Instead, she delivers an unexpected ease, as if a giant harp had always made sense in a country bar or as the missing instrument in 1970s AOR. More than simply doing that, she builds her latest record as a progression, moving further into rock territory, as if demonstrating across a single LP the fluidity of genre and her art.

And Southern Star opens with the delicate folk-pop of “Cinderella”. This is harp music as pop, melodic through Davis’ voice, but centering the instrument as core to the song. As the tracks flow through the following numbers, “Home in the Country” and “One of These Days”, the pedal steel slides it into country territory. Davis’ blend of psychedelia and country aligns her more closely with Margo Price than with any of the other (few) recent or current harpists in pop (comparisons to Joanna Newsom, for example, mostly end at instrumentation). The blend between harp and steel guitar feels natural, with both instruments restrained enough to allow the song’s surprisingly natural texture to come to the fore.

The sound of And Southern Star allows room for play. “The Pearl” returns to more harp-based pop but is now well contextualized in a specific universe. The psych elements only ring the song until its spacey outro. The transition makes sense; if Davis and her band Southern Star want to go into orbit, they’ve prepared the flight through the first few minutes of this track and the entirety of the album. The ensemble can lean into Fleetwood Mac on a cut like “Promise” or embrace their Deadhead tendencies at other times without sacrificing any of their own identity.

A memorable pair closes And Southern Star. “Don’t Stop Now” increases the LP’s rock sensibilities, moving from Sheryl Crow to a bluesy, jammy sound that suits the act well, obscuring how odd the presence of a harp is throughout, and a considerable change from “Cinderella”. “Leave It Alone” uses a classic pop sound until it becomes an extended instrumental jam that crosses genres. Davis could liven up a chamber-pop show or add some twists to a hazy summer festival, all without doing much to her central aesthetic.

The band sound tight enough to trade roles while remaining loose enough to keep that psych attitude going. Despite her strengths as a vocalist and instrumentalist, Davis cedes much ground for the sake of the songs, making And Southern Star the noticeably collaborative affair that its title suggests. At the same time, almost accidentally, it provides a blueprint for using a harp to make catchy and exploratory music that doesn’t need to focus on the harp but simply on a band doing the things they do best.

RATING 7 / 10