Being a clumsy and forgetful child (as well as having the burden, I mean blessing, of two younger siblings), I have only a few remaining relics of my youth. One of the most interesting of these is a tape my very religious babysitter had given me. I don't remember many of the songs, nor do I remember who sang on it, but when I was four years old, I was obsessed with a song called "Patience". It was about this man pretending he was a rabbit who kept saying, "I can't wait to have patience, because patience is a wonderful thing." The song catalogued all of the horrible things the rabbit did, such as bugging older people and stealing cookies.
Now, I know you're wondering, what does a Christian rabbit have to do with the Silver Jews? Well, for one: every time I listen to David Berman's voice, it reminds me of that tape. I can't explain it, but there is some intensity in his voice that compels me to take note of every single word he sings. And two: animals drift in and out of Tanglewood Numbers, as if once again that senile farmer down the road has forgotten to close the barn door. Three: unlike that tape from my childhood, with songs such as "Animal Shapes" and "How Can I Love You (If You Won't Lie Down)" the album could be given to especially hip young children to bop and dance and play around to, without them later having to consider the backhanded nature of the gift. Oh, and God shows up in the end.
As is obvious just from my many and various reactions, Tanglewood Numbers is a richly evocative album. Berman's well-crafted lyrics enable the listener to take flights of imagination along with him, through the exasperated playfulness of "How Can I Love You" to the rich poetic imagery of album-closer "There is a Place," swirling with "a brown bird nesting in a Texaco sign", "sister like the heat coming off the back of an old TV" and "chickens in the farmer's Corvette," among other characters. This is one of those few albums out there that could have all of its instruments stripped away from it, be converted to book form, and still be enjoyable.