K Michelle DuBois Returns with a Fever to Tell

K Michelle DuBois has been a cherished treasure of the Atlanta music scene since her early 1990s Babyfat days. After her subsequent band Luigi dissolved in the spring of 2008, she seemed for a while to focus more on supporting roles in the projects of friends rather than an impulsive leap into her own new thing. Her debut solo album, Lux Capone, guardedly broke the ice in 2012, but beginning with 2016’s Astral Heart she’s been on a prolific tear, releasing albums in relatively quick succession that stand strongly alongside the best material from those earlier groups, often in fresh ways.

She’ll follow up 2018’s superb Harness with the Feb. 12th release of The Fever Returns, an enthralling new batch of songs (radiantly recorded and produced – like her previous two albums – by Dan Dixon) that conjures all of the singular strengths of DuBois’ creative abilities without relying on replication. The opening title track was written in the spring of 2019 while Michelle was bedridden for months with an illness that caused a bad fever to come and go. It’s a powerful, mesmerizing song that showcases DuBois’ penchant for uncommon subject matter and is one of a few Fever Returns cuts most obviously reminiscent of her prior work. Blazing rocker “Heaven” is a profession of her love for the Southeast, despite the region’s drawbacks – such as pelting us with stinging freezing rain when “in the winter we pray for snow to come and wash our daily sins away.” “On the Run Again” is a bolt from the witness stand amid a crunch of unsympathetic electric guitar, drums and synthesizer. Clomping through the crux of shadows at a determined pace, “Firestar” launches a volley of electric riffs in a declaration of nocturnal incandescence, setting something of a thematic tone for the rest of the album.

“Waves Break” mixes salsa percussion with trademark mid-80s synth, bass and guitar for a sleek change of the tide. Dark fantasy “Southern Gothic Dream” rattles the bones with its contrast of disquieting deliberation and slashing laceration. “Strawberry Moon” builds on an intensifying summit of eerie, deep forest howls and yowls before finding flighted release in the form of a magnificent, liberated finale. “All Night Glamour” whisks us along on that familiar social ritual, that ceremonial ride under streetlights, past the magnetic glow of glittering faces and neon beer signs: “I wander the streets at night, looking for trouble to get into/ I found you.” The seven-and-a-half-minute “Baby Witch” brings the journey to a close with a séance-like rumination entwined in a solemn, repeating acoustic guitar circlet, piano runoffs, sparse chimes and the shamanistic shaking of what might be strands of shells or bones or goat hooves for all I know. She thoroughly casts you under her thick spell as she exorcises her own fear, just before the spirits erupt in a maelstrom of tumult and squall.

Michelle could have (with some merit) titled this album Girl Goes Goth. Sure, there’s been an undercurrent of organic darkness to some of her other material, but not to this extent. But it’s not anything blatant or silly, like she’s putting on black lipstick, leather bustier and spiked dog collar. It’s more the settings of these songs, the images they evoke and the soft chill they send up the back of your neck. True to its title, a good portion of the album sounds like what a heavy fever feels like: woozy and disorienting and primordial, almost disembodied.

It’s far and away K Michelle DuBois’ most compelling work as a solo artist to date, like the rebirth of a strange creature indeed, broke free from her comfort zone and fearless.