Michael on Fire – Always Yes – Real Eyes Productions
Searching the Barnes & Noble web-site for “affirmations” turns up 3,569 different books. I wonder if any one of them is as powerfully positive as Michael on Fire’s roots masterwork, Always Yes. (Real Eyes Production, January 11, 2011)
Thirteen powerful affirmations, a longish listen, but worth every one of its lushly musical 65 minutes. With that “who is that masked singer” legendary voice and richly textured arrangements, Michael on Fire and long-time musical compadres Ced Curtis on burning electric guitar, David Reinstein on sax, and co-producer Jamie Ascenzo on drums and dobro, have created a resonant Americana anthology that reads like a collection of classics, despite being only days off the press.
From the Americana-rock anthem “Righteous Man,” through the rocking swamp rhythms of “Look me in the Eye” and the gritty blues of “Breathing of the Sun,” to the knowing reflection in the final ballad, “Watch the Show,” this album is the definitive sound of grace, gratitude, mature realism and the profound recognition of all that may be right in our world.
Always Yes is a testament to the human spirit, and a testament to Michael on Fire’s musical virtuosity, – country, blues, ballads, Americana, folk – “Chief Redbird’s Violin” took me through a time warp to the autumn of 1933. Tyson Leonard’s sweet and haunting violin opens a portal to a place where the listener can indeed “see those long lace gowns, those smoke-filled rooms, and hear those old tunes.” And Michael on Fire fans will be especially gratified to hear him retell the story of Geronimo’s magic in “Apache Wind.”
But Always Yes is far from a museum piece. The cover art conveys perfectly the vibrant, provocative energy of aggressively vital songs like “Violet Skies.” And you’d have to be dead and, not just buried, but cremated, not to feel proud to be a citizen (of any country) and an adult when Michael on Fire exultantly rocks out “I’m a father. I’m a man. I’m a citizen, trying to make a stand.” in “Look Me in the Eye.”
“Now is the time,” he sings (in “Good Man”), “for all good men. And now is the time for all good women too.” It is that time, and this is the album for all good men and all good women who love good music, music that is both timeless and dynamically current.
Always Yes is a prayer of gratitude, a belting of the gospel of maturity, a rocking of the soul coming into the power of experience. You can keep the nostalgic songs of young love. I’ve kept growing, kept changing, always rearranging, to paraphrase my new favorite country song, (“Marlboro Country”). And I want my music to keep up with me.
I want it to affirm the grace of growing up. I want it to affirm that I enjoy moving my body to music that doesn’t suggest that because I’m past my twenties, I’m past my power. This is sexy, soulful, searching, sumptuous and a whole lot of other really great “s” words, not to mention a whole lot of a-z words.
But ultimately, the title pegs it as an “a” word. – Always Yes is an affirmation of Michael on Fire’s brilliant melody, poetry, insight, musical creativity, and conviction. It is an affirmation worthy of grown-up musically aware folks who still have it and know that it does indeed get better with age.