There is something to be said for the direct approach to things. It’s something I rather like most times. Just come out and say it directly, without beating around the proverbial bush. But if you ever eavesdrop on a public conversation between two people, young people especially, or overhear a public phone conversation you’ll realize after a time that the direct approach is not often the way most people approach conversation. And I’ve been reviewing both the novice and professional musical outputs for long enough now to tell when somethings just gone on a little too long or a metaphor is getting stretched thin or is just plain cliché. Nothing makes me yawn more than someone who thinks their being literary or poetic or whatever when they are really just trying too hard to make what they think “art” must be.
So when I heard Grand Rapids, Michigan, singer songwriter Anita Ranae’s debut record Watercolor Sidewalks I was pleasantly stunned at the razor sharpness of her lexicon as well as the subjects she chose to focus her songs on. Though Anita does write the occasional breakup tune, (but let’s be honest we all secretly love a good breakup song don’t we now) she also focuses her lyrics on subjects that aren’t as widely covered in songs; subjects like taking care of the elderly (Anita is a nurse) and the people of Pakistan, the country where Ranae spent her childhood.
Watercolor Sidewalks opens with the stark and introspective “Growing up Slowly.” It’s a beautiful acoustic melody made even more beautiful by cello and violins and even more so by Anita’s beautiful vocals which reminded me at once of the folk-singer sister duo Lily & Madeleine. All of these accoutrements continue on the quiet yet powerful “Epilogue.” Here her lyrics have the same quiet power, as she crushingly asks “How does it feel to live as an open book / Passed by younger folks who don't stop to read?” Then perhaps even more achingly direct “How does it feel to be mother and wife but no longer a daughter or friend?”
It is not just with death that Anita is able to conjure up great and powerful imagery. She does so wonderfully in the sonnet to David as she laments “You won't fit into my armor / It wasn't made for you /And my sword was never yours to own / So let me walk beside you / In the dry riverbed / And help you find your stones.” This same force comes out when she sings of Pakistan on “Jasmine.” “Now there's concrete and barbed wire / Where the jasmine flowers grew / And all the world sees are headlines and fault lines and feuds / And I'm missing you.”
Watercolor Sidewalks contains the beauty and power of an album that it takes many musicians years to be able to do. Though it’s not all that surprising when put into the context that Anita Ranae definitely laid bare her heart on this record. She did not sidestep the truth with over complicated metaphors, but used the beauty of common language, an unflinching and often overlooked beauty.
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