The Innocence Mission,
We Walked in Song
(Badman, 2007)

Have you ever thought a bad day was caused by a lack of music? Instead it was full of telephones ringing, heavy machinery crunching, cars honking and those annoying beeping scanners at the supermarket annoyingly beeping. Or maybe you've been having a bad day because of the music you've been listening to: too many boy bands and the radio has been stuck on your son's gangsta rap station for the past week. Do you feel you need something a bit soothing, something that will give you a chance to breathe a little? If so, I have found the perfect remedy for you.

As a follow-up album to Birds of My Neighborhood (which I've yet to hear) and their 2004 Now the Day is Over (a collection of what can only be called lullabies, really), Lancaster, Pennsylvania's The Innocence Mission has graced (and I do not mean that facetiously) us with We Walked in Song, a wonderful album to wake up or wind down to.

Constantly in my CD player -- on repeat, at that -- We Walked in Song is quickly becoming one of my favorite albums of the year. The tone of the album could be easily mistaken for sad when it's simply quiet and modest. The Innocence Mission offers us no bells, no whistles, no pomp; just this humble trio on vocals, guitar and keyboards creating soft, sombre melodies with intimations of dream pop and shoegaze. (Then again, I don't really even know what these terms mean. I picked them up somewhere and they make me think of Mercury Rev -- the terms, that is, not the Innocence Mission; rather, the Innocence Mission reminds me slightly of Dean & Britta and a host of others I am sure to mention below.)

The highlight of this album has to be Karen Peris's vocals (and perhaps she's always been the highlight of the band for their fans). Her fragile voice is somehow able to be sweet, intimate and haunting all at once. "Lake Shore Drive" and "Into Brooklyn, Early in the Morning" stand out most, perhaps because they create a bit of wistful nostalgia ("Into Brooklyn" has already found its way onto my latest mix). The vocals on these tracks also remind me of Katherine Whalen's (of Squirrel Nut Zippers fame) vocals on The 6ths "You You You You You." And here I can no longer say for certain whether I've first heard these melodies 40 years ago or last night while asleep.

The album's opening track, the folksy "Brotherhood of Man," sounds like it almost belongs on Natalie Merchant's The House Carpenter's Daughter, especially since Peris and Merchant sing in a similar register (though it may be fair to state that Merchant certainly has the stronger voice of the two). Another favorite of mine, "Love That Boy," reminds me of driving solo through Lancaster County (and I'm unsure if the county even contains the city), spying dilapidated barns amidst verdant fields, a little drizzle on the windshield and a little stream flowing off the shoulder, wet yellow hay -- hence the nostalgia this album invokes. I think this feeling is created by the successful opening of space between Karen's vocals and husband Don's guitar picking. The particular guitar sound is plucky and piercing in a number of tracks, again, adding to an overall wistful feel. The use of the pump organ on tracks like "Into Brooklyn, Early in the Morning" adds to the ensemble a nice little wall, furnishing a cozy little room for one's listening (and daydreaming/reminiscing -- pick your own poison) pleasure.

Along with Now the Day is Over, these two albums apparently highlight the more sedate side of The Innocence Mission, whereas their earlier works are supposedly a bit more bouncy and happy. Personally, I've yet to hear them, and, although I am excited to win a few cheap bids on eBay, I am a bit nervous that I may find these earlier albums too different and perhaps unlikable. I am hopeful, though, that Peris's voice shall make it all worthwhile. If you happen to be from Lancaster, I recommend hunting these folks down for a nice evening of music. Who knows? Perhaps if you're having trouble getting your children to go to bed, Karen could come by and sing them to sleep. Finding such a band could be a silly reason to miss the East Coast, but there it is.

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review by
Kevin Shlosberg

15 December 2007

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