Singer-songwriter and Virginia native Mike Frazier narrates the complicated nature of the human experience and brings the voice of the Shenandoah Valley to life in his sophomore album Where The Valley Kissed The Sky.
Following up on 2017’s Elegy, Mike really hones his own catchy and unique alt-country/rock sound which packs quite a strong message, one that he developed over an eclectic mix of smaller releases (such as 2016’s Complete Control, which has a much more of a Bruce Springsteen-type sound).
After extensive touring, Mike settled down and found work on a farm outside of Harrisonburg, VA, where he was heavily influenced by the daily life and stories of rural America. This rustic setting is the driving force behind the whole album, where he personifies the struggles and pains of small-town living and how it ultimately influences the people who live there. Mike sees the Shenandoah Valley as a miniature model of America, a diverse and broad range of people forged from the difficulties of their upbringings and surroundings.
Starting off, you can almost hear the mountains and valleys of Virginia in the acoustic guitar and melodies of “Southern Decay,” a pretty and folky track where Mike establishes his honest intent in meaning for the album.
The beautiful harmonica on “Wedding Day” gloriously personifies the pains of the youth in rural America just trying to make ends meet and begin their lives, while the more somber tones of “Save Me” and “Destitute” tackle tough subjects such as the opioid crisis and the riots in Charlottesville.
From the high-pitched tones of the organ on “Stay The Same” to the mellow acoustic guitars of “Old Rag Hole,” Mike uses instrumentation to characterize the frustrations and despair tied with the challenges of living in the Valley.
Despite all the adversity, Mike is optimistic in the long run, and he shows signs of hope for the people in the Shenandoah Valley on “Summer Rain” and “Lilac Glow,” reflecting on the fun and loving experiences had along the way. It’s a message of strength, of self-reliance, and of pulling oneself up by the bootstraps that’s absolutely vital to rural farm or country life.
Faced with everything that opposes them, in the end people tough through it on their own and grow in the process, and it’s a comforting and hopeful message to hear. The album closes with “Farewell, Annie,” a track which explores the ideas of “getting out,” leaving home, and finding oneself or one’s place in the world regardless of the obstacles.
Overall, Where The Valley Kissed The Sky is a story of the stamina of the human spirit, of the difficulties of life in rural America and how it changes people, and how they are still able to find happiness in themselves. Mike Frazier does an excellent job of narrating the human experience in small-town Virginia in an honest and entertaining fashion.
His unique version of this folk-Americana-neotraditional sound combined with his talent at storytelling, bright, catchy choruses, and message of resilience gives a proud voice to the Shenandoah Valley and sends a hopeful message to our country as a whole.