The Innocence Mission have followed up their critically acclaimed Befriended album with their most recent collection of angelsongs, We Walked In Song.
At this point in their career, it's perhaps too simplistic to merely split their catalog in half and compare the two styles represented. Their first three albums, all for major label A&M, share a stylistic bent towards an indie rock take on jangly alt-folk. Singer Karen Paris' voice shares a small league with compatriot Natalie Merchant, so a 10,000 Maniacs reference point wouldn't be entirely out of place either.
The other side, and their current vein of songwriting, is much more stripped down and mellow. Beginning with 1999's Birds Of My Neighborhood, and following on to their two most recent “proper” albums, 2003's Befriended and the current We Walked In Song, we find a slower paced and more wistful Innocence Mission style.
Part of the change is no doubt linked with the loss of their full-time drummer, but you get the sense that they would have found their way here inevitably. There is nothing forced or “missing” to the sound. It's a necessary absence to allow space for lyrics that have consistently grown more personal and longing, and less about memory and childhood. In fact, there are many times when it's difficult to locate a faster bpm than what was used on their previous release, the lullabies album Now The Day Is Over. Perhaps we've switched now to lullabies for adults.
The album opens dreamily enough with “Brotherhood of Man”, which sets the stage for the sound you'll hear throughout the rest of the disc: acoustic guitar blended with more reverb-laden archtop; upright bass, blended with Karen's beautiful and childlike voice; and occasional touches on organ and piano. If you enjoyed their previous album, Befriended, you will feel very much at home here. Both musically and thematically, the album doesn't deviate too far from this center point. Later in the record, during “Colors of the World”, we're treated to another reference to the brotherhood of man, more as a sign that the thematic circle carries on.
The pace picks up slightly and briefly during the first half of the album, for “Love That Boy” and “Lake Shore Drive”, but for the most part we're settling in for a more gentle and introspective journey. The loss of Karen's father no doubt brought a very introspective turn, although in true Innocence Mission style, it tends to play itself out in a more observational and romantic storytelling sort of way. There is a sense of using the lyric verse of song to work through difficult moments in life. In “Over The Moon”, Karen sings: "Can this be the same day of all rain / When I was down in and there was no sky? Now windows, doorways, you can't hold me / branches never hold me, no. I'm over the moon."
I often think of The Innocence Mission's music as comfort food when you miss someone, a gentle hug of reassurance when you're down, and something that would be best enjoyed in the early morning hours on a front porch as the world awakens. I think I'm right. And I'm sure it doesn't stop there.