Most reviewers will tell you that Dana Falconberry’s new album, Leelanau is about nature. It’s filled with sleeping bears, crooked rivers, sparrows and maple leaves, they will say, and then laud her ability to craft elegant reflections of the world’s beauty. This will be true. Partially true. Falconberry has created an album that explores the world around us – often those elements that we don’t always notice upon first glance. And yet, she understands that the world includes not just natural elements, but human ones as well. Leelanau isn’t a masterpiece because Falconberry’s gorgeous lyricism paints a picture of the landscapes around us; rather, it is a masterpiece for the way that she uses nature (and lush harmonies, sophisticated arrangements, and inimitable songwriting) to illustrate the challenges of living a very human life on this planet Earth.
Album centerpiece “Petoskey Stone” is a perfect example of this. The song begins with the same soft, syncopated interval strummed repeatedly. As it continues, more instrumental pieces get added in until a rich Andrew Bird-esque cascade of competing melodic lines has been built. On its surface the song is about taking a walk along a northern Michigan beach, featuring hills, beaches, eagles and many other natural markers. The chorus, though, brings the song from the specific to the universal. It suggests that there are places or situations that intrinsically ground us, to which we can turn when we somehow veer off course. “And in my left hand / a Petoskey stone,” sings Falconberry. It may seem like nothing until you realize that a Petoskey stone is secretly a fossil. It seems like any other rock, but carries within it the remains of natural elements no longer at home in the Michigan areas where it exists. In the song’s specific meaning it grounds Falconberry to the landscape of her childhood, and in the universal meaning the stone represents all of the hidden layers of ourselves, long buried, that nevertheless persist as beautiful reminders of our history. As the song closes, Falconberry envisions a version of her own epitaph, wondering about her own small place in such a large world. The stone then illustrates that even the smallest creatures can live on far past anything they might have imagined.Dana Falconberry - 'Petoskey Stone'
The rest of the album is filled with much the same amount of rich allegory. In “Crooked River,” the titular river stands in for a wayward individual (friend? relation?) who is counseled that there isn’t anything wrong with their journey. In “Lake Charlievoix,” green hills are missed opportunities, a stone split in half is full of regret, and closed curtains are emotional walls. And in song after song darkness can represent trouble, death or any other number of maladies.
In between each of the major songs are minute-long vignettes centered around various places in northwestern Michigan. “Sturgeon Bay,” for example, recounts Falconberry’s father in an 18-word anecdote as vivid as any lyric on the album. These shorter pieces help the 15 track album move along at a nice clip and keep the sounds varied.
Leelanau is recommended for fans of Joni Mitchell, Sufjan Stevens, or the Eastern Sea. The music is sophisticated and fascinating. The lyrics are interesting and moving. There are several standout songs, and yet the album maintains a cohesive feel from start to finish in a way that few do. Falconberry has crafted one of the great albums of the year anywhere on the planet, let alone here in Austin. This is a must-hear for local music fans.