The final studio album by the late David Olney, beloved folk songwriter’s songwriter, in collaboration with Anana Kaye, a young Eastern European powerhouse taking Americana by storm.
If the futile longing to reach back through memory and grasp what is in the past could be set to music, it would sound like Whispers and Sighs. Over the course of 13 tracks, David Olney and Anana Kaye manage to craft a journey that amounts to far more than just another Americana album. This is to be expected with Olney, an acclaimed songwriter responsible for more than 20 solo albums and songs covered by and/or co-written with the likes of Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle, and Linda Ronstadt, among many others. Further, just as Townes Van Zandt reportedly saw something special in him, Olney felt a similar admiration and kinship towards Kaye, a smoky-voiced Americana darling whose star is assuredly on the rise in Nashville, and her husband and musical partner Irakli Gabriel, both of whom are originally from the country of Georgia.
On Whispers and Sighs, the pair create a unique, sonic landscape that blends the haunting sensuality of European music with the raw intimacy of Americana, weaving raucous, unapologetic rock anthems like ‘Lie to Me, Angel’ and ‘Last Days of Rome’ with sparse, introspective ballads such as ‘Tennessee Moon’ and the record’s title track. The album was written by the trio of Olney, Kaye and Irakli with long-time Olney collaborator and hit songwriter John Hadley also earning a co-writing credit on several songs.
Brett Ryan Stewart (Wirebird Productions) produced and mixed the record at his studio in Nashville. Stewart is another rising star in his field, having garnered Grammy consideration for projects he’s helmed, along with notable TV and film placements. Richard Dodd, recipient of the Best Engineer Grammy Award for Tom Petty’s Wildflowers, mastered the project. Whispers and Sighs features an impressive array of Nashville musicians and vocalists - perhaps most notably Olney’s long-time musical collaborator and bassist Daniel Seymour and bassist Chris Donohue, who has worked with the likes of Emmylou Harris, Robert Plant and Elvis Costello.
All in all, Whispers and Sighs is an Americana record that explores what it means to be human. Over its course, Olney and Kaye take turns leading the listener through intimate self-portraits, myths and tales of historical fiction, all in an effort to illustrate the various devices we use to cope with our own impermanence. Though the project deals heavily in weighty, existentialist themes, the prevailing message proves to be a celebration of human connection, friendship and love. As Olney put it in 2019, “We have no idea where the songs come from, but they bring a peace of mind like an old photograph of home. Wherever that may be.”
And while it’s hard to escape the seeming cosmic significance of the album as a posthumous Olney release, at no point does this create the air of morbidity; rather, it lends the project a bittersweet ambiance. According to Anana and Irakli, mere moments after hitting save on the final mixes, the phone rang with news of David’s passing. This seems tragically fitting; for what is found on Whispers and Sighs is a collection of songs into which two artists and friends clearly poured the full extent of their souls. Within it is an undeniable reminder that David Olney’s extraordinary legacy can never fade, while Anana Kaye’s star grows deservedly brighter by the day.
Photo Credits: (1ff) David Olney & Anana Kaye (by John Partipilo); (4) Mary Gauthier(unknown/website).