As the yellow flower tattoo on her forearm might indicate, Misty Lyn Bergeron wears the heart of her songs on her sleeve. For the Dead, the debut album from one of Ann Arbor's finest contemporary units, embraces that iconic image in all its seasonal and metaphorical forms. Over the course of the disc's 11 tracks, Bergeron charts the slow death of the bloom and the tumultuous relationship that symbolic death represents. Vivid nature-based imagery appears throughout the album, coming on like nostalgic snapshots caught somewhere between wearied love and hard-struck defeatism. "South at Noon," a standout track, best captures that poetic introspection, with Bergeron's "pollen palm and weeded heart" reliably tending to an intractable lover who can only "fold [his] petals" indifferently in front of her.
Bergeron's backing band, the Big Beautiful, fills out the sound with rich alt-country textures. Ryan Gimpert (pedal steel, electric guitar), Carol Gray (fiddle), Matt Jones (drums) and Jim Roll (bass) are all veteran players in the A2 folk community. As such, they bring unpretentious, spacious arrangements to these strong tracks — at times building from a whisper to a release of fleeting bar band thunder ("Flower Song," "SummerLull"), while at other times drifting by with hazy and unfocused interludes, albeit full of warm autumnal swells ("MPLS II (and the snow...)"). This album has been a long time coming for Bergeron — and given its definitive treatment of her material, the artist finally has a document to cement her as not just one of the better songwriting forces on the Michigan scene but in contemporary folk music in general.
Misty Lyn & the Big Beautiful play Saturday, Jan. 31, as part of the Jan. 30-31 Annual Ann Arbor Folk Festival at the Ark, 316 S. Main St., Ann Arbor; 734-761-1818. With Kris Kristofferson, Pete Seeger and more.
Aaron Shaul writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.