Our verdict: 5/5
Find it at: Seven Dead Arson Records
Miss Shevaughn and Yuma Wray.
Sounds like a meeting across time and space, right? A cosmic concoction of an early Appalachian settler girl and a 60’s Zen psych-soul warrior. And to these ears, you wouldn’t be far from the truth.
When Gram Parsons coined the term ‘Cosmic American Music’, I’m pretty sure that Lean Into The Wind was exactly the sort of thing he had in mind: a heady blend of country, rock and psych, bound together in otherworldly voices, at times as beautiful, fragile and elemental as the finest crystal, and then at turns delivering heft, warp and gritty weft.
Opening track ‘Drifter’s Compass’ gets straight to the emotional heart of this fine collection of songs: “Then you hear the sound of someone calling, and you feel the sun that just keeps burning, and you hear the song that won’t be broken. And we won’t be broken.” An anthem of resilience and hope for those in need, it glides in on a Byrdsian guitar jangle, before organ and glockenspiel phase-shift it into something more soulful, perhaps hailing from the Motor City. The whole thing then takes flight on the back of Yuma Wray’s fine country picking and the marshal drums of Ben Tuft. Miss Shevaugn’s voice soars throughout, powering through and intertwining in glorious harmony with her fellow singers.
‘Election Year Blues’ introduces rockier textures and an organ bed, before everything falls silent for a stunning a-Capella folk-rooted call to “Count up your dollars before you show up to vote, ‘Cos donations of millions speak louder than hope.” It’s a rallying cry that those whose “…pockets are empty…” can surely get behind, and when the song breaks you can imagine it wouldn’t seem out of place in a four hour marathon set by the Boss.
A deeply atmospheric country-shuffle, ‘Coyote’ is then haunted by a distant, eerie lap-steel as Miss. Shevaughn calls upon the “…lonely song that never stops…” to guide her and another on into a hopeful but uncertain future. It’s easy to read it as biography, an exquisite and poetic re-telling of Miss.Shevaughn and Yuma Wray’s own story of leaving behind grounded lives in Chicago for music and the open road.
‘Bleed Me’ does just that, working up a thundering storm of slide guitar, a solid beat and a wailing choir of voices, delivering a classic tale about getting out of town before “…Chicago bleeds me dry.” It builds to a frenzied maelstrom of guitar, organ and Miss.Shevaughn’s powerful vocal emoting, before going out with a bang.
‘Lone Star Souvenir’ conjures vivid images of American border country, all minor chord strum and dusty brushed drums, a theme that continues on through following track ‘When The Pumps Run Dry.’ But then two minutes in, and just when you think you know where the song is going, it explodes in a hefty drum-break and walls of fuzzed up guitar, sounding like the Stooges or the MC5 had they been influenced by the rebel country greats. It’s astonishing in it’s sustained power.
‘Oh Tornado’ is a showcase for the clear strength of Miss.Shevauhgn’s agile voice, accompanied only by picked acoustic guitar and gentle electric strums, before ‘Long Way Home’ brings in a fuller arrangement, waltzing through it’s four and a half minutes with equal vocal prowess. The lyrical themes of leaving, traveling, uncertain futures and, yes, death, work their beguiling spell throughout.
‘Sure As Hell’ is a melodic garage clatter, reminiscent of The Replacements at their finest. “You can’t sit and burn in silence,” Yuma Wray sings, before Miss.Shevaughn joins him for the chorus manifesto – delivered with real fire – that “We’re never going home.” Miss.Shevaughn then picks up the lead in the second verse, singing “We’re gonna’ keep on running until we run out of time.” You believe her. And hope that they keep their promise.
‘Destruction Story’ is something equally special. It’s dream-like opening brings to mind the globe conquering Fleetwood Mac in it’s texture and melody, but grows into something far more gritty and violent, with a sudden burst of drums and garage-blues guitar that blow the song wide open. Miss.Shevaughn releases her inner-banshee for the finale, delivering a gutsy roar brimming with emotional heft. Jack White would have to look on with envy.
‘Blue Dream’ is shrouded by the spectre of the ghostly ballads of the Handsome Family, bolted on to the hazy alt-rock of Mazzy Star, with it’s reverb-heavy melodic guitar-squall and melancholy organ. And then the whole beautiful thing rounds out with the glorious title (sort-of) track, ‘Brush The Dust Off (Lean Into The Wind.)’
“Don’t you cast your eyes down,” implores Miss Shevaughn, “Don’t you heed what they say…. Darlin’ you need somewhere to fly. Lean into the wind, we gotta’ keep movin’.” It might be natural to wonder who she is singing to following a diagnosis of cervical cancer in January 2013. Is it us, or herself? Either way, here are artists who know what it means to follow your dreams regardless of what may be around the corner. “We who have nothing, are nothing but free.”
And who could hope for more?