Music

Album Review: Michelle Mandico Soars in ‘Ptarmigan’

Most musicians dive into Nashville head first. On singer-songwriter Michelle Mandico‘s new album Ptarmigan, the Colorado native seems to be cautiously keeping one foot in each pool. But she has some significant people in her corner for her debut full-length album: Ptarmigan was by North Mississippi All-Stars’ Luther Dickinson and recorded with Kevin Houston at Zebra Ranch in Coldwater, Mississippi. Their confidence is well-placed: Mandico’s clear voice and compassionate songwriting make Ptarmigan soar.

From the album’s beautiful opening number, “Water Bearer,” we see that Mandico did not come to Music City to play around. “Water Bearer” deals with current social ills, tasking us all to consider how we can truly help. Mandico marvels at the better parts of our natures: “humans helping humans helping humanize our fears.” Mandico encourages us to find power in ourselves and the way we support each other.

Ptarmigan is also gently playful. While “Giant Love” perversely makes me think of the Pixies, it is instead a charming alternate ending to Jack and the Beanstalk. However, it’s the personal songs that shine. On “First Winter Without Colorado,” Mandico likens her new hometown of Nashville to Ellis Island, a port for many seekers. But she eschews straight country music for Americana and folk, creating an intimate environment to let her ethereal voice ring out. Even if you’ve never lived anywhere else, it’s easy to feel sympathy for Mandico’s homesickness.

While it’s clear — both from the content of the songs and the product of the album itself — that Mandico has a lot to be excited about, she paints intricate portraits of the tiny moments she misses from home: her love for her mom in “My Colorado Sun,” the people she’s left behind in “Ptarmigan” and “First Winter” as well as the touching “Sister,” and even the former version of herself she fondly remembers in “Colorado Sun.” While I’ve focused on only a few here, each song on the album is a window into a determined, compassion, and indomitable spirit.

Ptarmigan is out now.

Ptarmigan Track Listing

  1. “Water Bearer”
  2. “Ptarmigan”
  3. “All It Takes”
  4. “Giant Love”
  5. “First Winter Without Colorado”
  6. “Perfect Love”
  7. “I Am Yours”
  8. “Take My Time”
  9. “My Colorado Sun”
  10. “Astounding”
  11. “1,000 Feet”
  12. “Sister”

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Album Review: Michelle Mandico Soars in ‘Ptarmigan’