Shana Cleveland | Manzanita | Hardly Art

Review: Shana Cleveland – Manzanita

National Music Reviews

Shana Cleveland

Hardly Art
Street: 03.10
Shana Cleveland = Cat Stevens + Alice Coltrane + Richard Brautigan

Manzanita is the third solo record from visual artist, songwriter, writer and musician Shana Cleveland. Manzanita is a small evergreen shrub found in California with strong medicinal properties associated with healing.

Shana Cleveland was diagnosed with breast cancer in January of 2022. A year later, after successful treatments and becoming a new mother, Cleveland has drifted into the hills of her beloved California and burrowed herself in the wilderness of a new life, a new beginning and a new wild soul. With Manzanita, Shana Cleveland has delivered her best record yet.

Manzanita is a spooky, supernatural, space age daydream of a record that spills out like a silent spring. It still has that Cleveland vibe, merging Sun Ra mysticism with the sci-fi visions of Octavia Butler, a formula familiar to Cleveland with her surf rock band La Luz and her two previous solo records, Oh Man, Cover The Ground (2015) and Night Of The Worm Moon (2019).

On Manzanita, Cleveland still brings the same cosmic energy, surfing the galaxy in a psychedelic haze set to a trippy pace that feels like floating. Yet, this time, there is something different, something learned and experienced. On Manzanita, Cleveland sounds confident, content and grounded. She sounds like someone once lost and now found. Cleveland sounds perfectly balanced.

Manzanita is stitched together by four, brilliant instrumental interludes: one a little sci-fi (“Bloom”), one sounding like a merry-go-round (“Light On The Water”), one with a slight “Going Back To California”–era Led Zeppelin guitar magic (“Bonanza Freeze”) and one that’s muddy and a bit bluesy (“Sheriff Of The Salton Sea”). Instrumentally, Manzanita is on point. Will Sprott (Shannon And The Clams) provides keyboards, dulcimer, glockenspiel, harpsichord and synthesizers. Sprott uses all the instruments in his arsenal. Abbey Blackwell (Alvvays, La Luz) adds bass, and Olie Eshleman is on pedal steel guitar. But, it is Cleveland’s subtle, soft and scratchy guitar work that forms the beating heart of the record.

Manzanita is a back-to-nature album with lyrics that sometimes sound like Henry David Thoreau’s notebook observations from his stay at Walden Pond. Cleveland has that same observational power with lyrics such as, “Woke up too late, Now the days almost done / There goes the quick winter sun” (“Quick Winter Sun”) and, “Little cooling crystals / Turning the air to rainbows” (“Ten Hour Drive Through West Coast Disaster”).

Cleveland is comfortable in her solitude, content to be away from the maddening crowd. “Took the one to San Francisco / Stopping at Big Sur to look around,” she sings on “Mayonnaise,” “Now I am a Californian / I never want to leave the state again / For too long I’ll write 1,000 songs / I’ll write a 1,000 songs before I’m done.” Cleveland further laments on the beautiful “Mystic Mine”: “And now on the days you’re an ocean away / Just me and the baby, back in the country.”

On Manzanita, Cleveland is very clear—she has followed her bliss, found where it lives and she’s not about to leave anytime soon. That’s a good thing; Manzanita is a West Coast masterpiece and in the long line of great California records. I believe Cleveland is an important artist who I highly recommend discovering, and Manzanita is a perfect place to start. –Russ Holsten

Read more on Shana Cleveland and La Luz:
Review: Shana Cleveland – Night of the Worm Moon
Rock n’ Roll, Love and Death: La Luz’s Weirdo Shrine