Shana Cleveland / Shana Cleveland & the Sandcastles

Oh Man, Cover the Ground

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Although she is better known as the frontwoman for Seattle-based surf noir group La Luz, Shana Cleveland's solo folk project pre-dates that band by several years. Just before moving to Seattle, the Michigan native spent a year living in Los Angeles, where she developed a meandering acoustic fingerstyle technique inspired by American Primitive guitarists like John Fahey and Robbie Basho. Over the next couple of years, she worked out a series of loose, rambling songs, playing selective shows with a rotating cast of players collectively referred to as the Sandcastles. Although it wouldn't see release until 2015 when she'd already established herself in the national indie rock scene via La Luz, Cleveland's solo debut, Oh Man, Cover the Ground, was recorded in her basement in 2011. Casual, spontaneous, and lazily free-spirited, it's a record that makes its case on vibes and appealing atmosphere. Led by Cleveland's untethered guitar work and sleepy vocals, the songs unfurl in a gentle current of quiet introspection and unhurried examination. The instrumentation is mostly spare, though the somewhat murky D.I.Y. production allows for plenty of homespun ambience to fill the air as clarinet, piano, cello, harmonies, and the occasional appearance of a rhythm section drift in and out of the picture. Songs like the lovely "Golden Days" and the pastoral title track set the overall tone for this oddly domestic album, which feels like it might have been cast out from behind a sunny kitchen table over several cups of herbal tea. Only the shuffling "Holy Rollers" and the mysterious "Itching Around" seem willing to leave the house, and even then at their own ambling pace. Cleveland's guitar playing throughout is excellent and the album is pleasantly appealing, though her songwriting doesn't work hard to draw you in. Neither particularly sad nor happy, Oh Man, Cover the Ground has a sort of ramshackle, neo-folk nonchalance that might not make much of an impact unless you're willing to slow down with it and enjoy it for the contemplative mood piece it is.

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