David Olney & Anana Kaye – «Whispers & Sighs” (album 2021)
Written by Tormod Reiersen, norsk versjon her
“I ran out of excuses
On the twenty-third of March
Had to look the truth straight in the eye”
The cello that we already heard in the intro slides almost seamlessly into the most beautiful song you will hear this year, a song not without kinship with two other David Olney classics, «1917» and «There Was A War». The cello is accompanied by David Olney’s distinctive voice, several instruments, and, yes, Anana Kaye’s heavenly piano. Had this song been all that came out of the collaboration between David Olney and Anana Kaye, I would have been more than happy. But we get so much more. A treasure of an album that I predict will be a classic. To me it already is.
«Whispers & Sighs» has been ready for more than a year. David Olney died on January 18 last year. He was on stage in the middle of a song, said «I’m sorry», and died. It was sad, but also a bit beautiful, yes, poetic, like the man himself. So, when David Olney sings «My Favorite Goodbye» in the song I refer to in the introduction, you also think of this, the way Olney dies. Also, it is almost ironic that on the last song on this album, the almost equally great «The Great Manzini (Disappearing Act)» he sings «The last train has left the station, The Ship has sailed to sea, The city’s under quarantine, And I can never leave». But like so much timeless art, the album «Whispers & Sighs» can be interpreted into the reality of the listener.
David Olney was what Mary Gauthier described as “the master of perspective”. He composed songs from the perspective of the iceberg that Titanic hit and from the perspective of a French prostitute who meets the soldier before he goes to war to the certain death in the song «1917». On Palm Sunday, it is also appropriate to refer to the incredible «Brays», about the donkey Jesus rode when he went into Jerusalem that day, as well as another song I associate with Easter, equally strong «Jerusalem Tomorrow». His songs have been recorded by greats such as Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle and Linda Ronstadt.
On «Whispers And Sighs» we get new perspectives. And it is probably Olney himself and one of the key contributors to this project, Irakli Gabriel, that makes me imagine that all the songs are performed from inside of a bar or café. Outside, a senseless war is raging, and a story is being told about a soldier who has not seen his family for another year. We get songs about love and broken relationships. Lyrics I will not thoroughly analyze. Can not analyze. The lyrics gradually open up to the listener. Beautiful as the music. I have plenty of time.
Although it is David Olney who is my entrance to this project, it cannot be emphasized strongly enough that this is a collaborative project:
«There is a place, a country, actually, in my imagination. It comes to me as a dream. Sometimes the scenes are in black and white, sometimes in color. It exists between 1890 and 1920. It is apparently in Europe but is no place I can identify. » This is how David Olney’s description of the album begins. And he adds that there are intense discussions in the cafes about art and what makes life worth living. And at one of these cafes sits David Olney and his new friends and partners Anana Kaye and Irakli Gabriel, a married couple who together make up the duo Anana Kaye. Occasionally, they are visited by songwriter John Hadley, the man behind songs recorded by a number of well-known country artists. Olney’s description is longer than this, and I am left with a feeling that this is about creating art by letting illusions and reality slide into each other. The songs were made at a cafe table in 2019. Or in 1890. People meet, are different. They have different backgrounds. They find each other through music. Complement each other. The couple is originally from Georgia, where Eastern Europe meets Western Asia. They have now settled in Nashville. One of the key elements that elevates this record above most other excellent records with David Olney, is the dimension these two bring into the record, elements of a musical tradition not necessarily associated with Olney. A new energy. Contrasts, no, not really that either.
David Olney writes that the scenes that take place are in black and white, sometimes in color. But the images I get from hearing this album, because it gives cinematic associations, are exclusively in black and white. Maybe this is due to the excellent music videos that accompany the album and which I suspect that Irakli Gabriel has a lot of credit for, the great photos taken during the recording of the album or the album cover art made by David Olney’s daughter. But the music itself also pulls me in that direction. I have mentioned strings and then maybe mainly the cello which is never far away on this record. Elements of chamber music. Anana Kaye’s piano.
But also when it kicks off with a little dirtier guitars and David when he recites. «Lie To Me Angel» is a tough rocker, which ends with insistent angry voices. «Lie To Me Angel» turns into another highlight on the album, «Thank You Note»:
“You’re breaking up with me, I didn’t hear a word you said
I’m busy breaking up with the voices in my head
What kind of love is this? What kind of strange disease?
Oh the touch of your hand
Is the touch of the cold cold death”
This time it is the beautiful voice of Anana Kaye that carries the lyrics and over the well-adapted accompaniment: a crying violin. And then comes the cello and Eastern European choirs and the piano. I can only listen and listen. Disappear. What a voice Anana Kaye has!
I wrote earlier about this year’s best song. I also do not get away from a candidate for this year’s rock song. It is late at night. The atmosphere in the bar is good. You hear noises and toasts. Anana Kaye begins to sing «The Last Days Of Rome», she sings a few verses, takes the song to several heights before David Olney sings one verse. I love the dynamics these voices create together. Guitars, pianos, drums, strings, you name it. Then Anana Kaye comes and takes the song to even a new level. Goosebumps. The end of Rome? A celebration to the bitter end?
“Nothing changes, nothing will
In the world long gone wrong
What can we do? Raise your glass to the
last days of Rome»
And listen to Anana Kaye perform the beautiful ballad “Tennessee Moon. A voice for the future!
When I was trying to write about this album, I contacted Irakli Gabriel in the duo Anana Kaye. He says that he became acquainted with Olney after a concert at a local bar in 2017 without knowing him before. They had a long talk together, and Irakli said that he was a musician and that he also made music videos. Eventually the snowball began to roll and we can now hear the final result. Irakli says that he lived in Trondheim for one year 30 years ago. There he became acquainted with the music of people such as Leonard Cohen, Kris Kristofferson, Tom Waits, Bob Dylan and Lou Reed. Then I almost think that Trondheim and Norway can get some of the credit for this album, because this is a record everyone should want ownership of.
I can not praise this album enough. In April it will be available on CD in Europe, and in June it may be ready on vinyl in Europe. In the meantime, we get to stream. Again and again. David Olney had already released a large number of high-quality albums throughout until his death. Here, however, Anana Kaye, David Olney and the producer Brett Ryan Stewart have brought out the best in each other and released something that is on a par with the very best from David Olney’s career. I have trouble seeing that anyone can top «Whispers & Sighs» in 2021.
“There is no rabbit in my hat
The dove has flown away
There are no secret spells to cast
No magic words to say”
Yes, once again we got to experience Olney’s magical abilities. I am so grateful to everybody involved in this project.