I received an advance copy of We Walked in Song from Badman Recording Company this week. Here's my review:
The Innocence Mission have reached a milestone with their 9th studio album, We Walked in Song, comfortably surpassing a 20-year recording span that began in 1986 with their obscurely released EP, "Tending the Rose Garden" and their self-titled debut album in 1989.
During these 20 years, their music has progressed from production heavy alterna-rock to sparsely arranged folk. And it's safe to say, with time seemingly flying by, that life events have played a significant role in defining the Innocence Mission's current signature. With Steve Brown leaving the band to manage a restaurant, to Mike Bitts and the married duo of Karen & Don Peris spending the majority of their time raising their children, it's no wonder the group has evolved as they have.
But With the joy of childbirth also comes an evitable sorrow. Badman's Dylan Magierek says,"Sometime after the passing of her father, Karen began to write some of the most beautiful and heartfelt material I have heard from the band. I believe she turned to songwriting as a way of coping with this great loss, which was compounded with the loss of her mother a few years ago, and celebrating those she loves in her life." It's these influences that culminate and live on in "We Walked in Song", an album of eleven new songs.
The album commences with "Brotherhood of Man", in which Karen speaks of connectedness to strangers in everyday moments. Her genuinely sincere lyrics flow appropriately with a facile vocal melody, which is surrounded by an intricate yet delicate web of guitars, organ and upright bass. As the album progresses however, I find "Brotherhood of Man" is often times disguised by the inherent strength of the rest of their album.
Dedicated to Anna (Don and Karen's daughter), "Happy Birthday" is a warmly touching self-penned acoustic composition, borrowing lyrics from the past with a visible smile:
"When you wake up it will be the beginning of the world. Happy birthday, beautiful, in the fields of this day hear a song, hear a song. Oh, undeserved sweetness and light, stay by my side. We will go out in the morning now, a crown of maple leaves, a crown of flowers circling your sweet head."
If you listen closely, you can hear Karen smiling. It's at that moment, no matter how bad a day you've had, that you crack a smile. Smiles are contageous.
Dedicated to Drew (Don and Karen's son), "Love That Boy" harkens back to Befriended's "When Mac Was Swimming" with a 60's cocktail flavor sure to hook you with its lively enticing melody. The title is actually borrowed from the poem by Walter Dean Myers.
"Into Brooklyn, Early in the Morning" would be my wife's favorite song, provided the title were more truth than symbolic. It's just her way of saying, "I'd live in Brooklyn...anywhere in NYC would be fine with me." Of course I'm paraphrasing, but it's hard to think of something other than: Spike Lee, the Knicks, the subway, the unnecessity of owning a car, the hustle and bustle. My wife loves that stuff, but I'm a bit uninterested. I'll take the symbolic version with the the pump organ and the cool "ba ba-ba baaa..." backing vocals any day, however I have a strange feeling that one day, early in morning, I may wake up and find myself in Brooklyn.
There's a lot more to "Lake Shore Drive" than I could have imagined at first listen. For the longest time, I believed that Steve Brown would be back on drums. Either I misinterpreted a conversation from last year, or something happened and it just wasn't possible. Despite my dissapointment, I was happy to see Hunter Johnson listed in the credits for playing drums on this track. Hunter had performed live with Don in 2006, as well as on Don's album "Go When the Morning Shineth". But as suprising as this news was, I was just as surprised by the opening of the track, which instantly reminded me of the Arrogants "Let You Down". It's just a simple set of electric guitar arpeggios, which themeatically reappear and are expanded on with a Robert Buck-esque solo at the tail end of the track.
"Let's go Tom. The weather's here but you are strong. The wax tears on your raincoat come from candles when we walked in song. Oh you'll never lose that light though so much is gone."
Even in this brief portion of lyrics, it's obvious that Karen is quite adept at creating visuals. "Let's Go Tom" not only supplies the album's title, but also embraces her father's memory in a way that listeners will compassionately appreciate.
Memorable and enchanting. "Since I Still Tell You My Every Day" brings to mind (in a very good way mind you), "Tonight You Belong to Me" from the movie The Jerk. Without the ukulele, the guitar strumming still sounds quite similar. But it's the lyrics that set the songs apart:
"All my life I don't find anyone like you. I wish you'd be at Bethany. I wish you'd come to violin with me. Since I still tell you my every day, all these things I want you to be a part of, darling, you'll be."
"A Wave is Rolling" could easily be dismissed by name alone, but the track itself is far less commonplace.
"There are the days I cannot know or understand, a piano in a moving van, way behind at the light. And a wave is rolling over a wave is moving over a wave is rolling over me, over me."
It's an honest and emotional ride which drives to a climax that never quite occurs, but instead leaves the listener with a feeling of empathy. The word soundtrack comes to mind. It's quite possibly one of the most touching songs I've ever heard.
"Blue could be a winter coat or the sea, Lake Maureen, a window or a downpour on my street. This bit of yellow could be a leaf or a beam of light, a girl in a taxi."
The lyrics and melody to "Colors of the World" skillfully compliment the instrumental counterpart creating a mellow and hypnotic-like aura which would seemingly fall back to Earth with the next track "Over the Moon", but only the title of the track would suggest otherwise.
If there could be a compliment to "A Wave is Rolling", I would include "My Sisters Return from Ireland" as one of them; yet another perfect addition to a soundtrack somewhere. I can't quite put a finger on it, but there's also something quite familiar about this song, as though you've heard it before, but for the first time. It's comforting...relaxing, yet the perfect way to say good-bye.
Although We Walked in Song may only be a short stroll for some, I do have a saying that I like to use on occasion: "There are certain constants in the universe, but subjectivity isn't one of them." This essentially means, what one person may think is the "best" another may think is the "worst". We Walked in Song may or may not be the band's finest album to date depending on who you ask. I tend to prefer their recordings with Steve Brown. But even if this album is not your cup of tea, there are plenty enough treasured moments to connect with..that with each note, each word and each phrase that, in my opinion, are worth every tiny sip.