THE INNOCENCE MISSION HAS NEVER been concerned with image or posturing but has chosen instead to concentrate solely on their music. This is more evident than ever on the group's release, Birds Of My Neighborhood. The departure of drummer Steve Brown and the decision not to replace him has meant that the group's backbone and sound coloring now come from the acoustic guitars of Karen and Don Peris. Their recording is so sparse and intimate that it sounds like a group of friends playing in a living room, and this approach perfectly frames the wistful sentiments expressed in the songs.
The Innocence Mission was formed by Karen and Don with Brown and Mike Bitts while they were attending high school in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Don and Karen started dating the first summer they met and often played their guitars together. As Don says, "it's romantic and inexpensive." Even in their earliest years, the band's sound was centered around Karen's heart-felt vocals and introspective songwriting. A&M records signed the band in 1989 and released an eponymous debut that is considered to be a classic among die-hard fans. They recorded two more albums for A&M, Umbrella (1991) and Glow (1995), toured with acts like Natalie Merchant, and appeared at the Lillith Fair in 1999. The later signed with RCA and began recording and producing their own albums.
Many of the songs on Birds of My Neighborhood employ merely a pair of soft acoustic guitars. Others add a bit of bass or a tap of percussion. The production makes the most of every instrument, creating a surprisingly clean and spacious sound, with each instrument made to glisten.
The dry instrumentation contrasts nicely with the richness of the tunes. They're so pretty it hurts, alluding to a host of '60s references. There's the jangle of West Coast folk-rock, drawn from the Byrds or the Mamas and the Papas, and the shadowy beauty of the Velvet Underground's acoustic interludes. The 12 song album includes a compelling rendition of John Denver's "Follow Me."
Birds of My Neighborhood was deleted by RCA in 2002 after the sub-label Kneeling Elephant went out of business. Sealed copies currently sell for over $50. on Amazon.
She sings songs that call to mind Paul Simon, she showed up on a Natalie Merchant album, and Joni Mitchell is a big fan. And when the Innocence Mission is performing, it's Karen Peris's voice -- with inspiration from the above artists and a strong strain of Catholic faith -- that entrances and envelops the audience. - The Washington Post
I'm in awe of big songs, national anthems, rock opera, the Broadway musical. But what I always come back to, after the din and drum roll, is the small song that makes careful observations about everyday life. This is what makes the music by The Innocence Mission so moving and profound... What is so remarkable about Karen Peris' lyrics are the economy of words, concrete nouns-fish, flashlight, laughing man-which come to life with melodies that dance around the scale like sea creatures. Panic and joy, a terrible sense of awe, the dark indentations of memory all come together at once, accompanied by the joyful strum of an acoustic guitar. This is a song in which everyday objects begin to have tremendous meaning. - Sufjan Stevens