The members of the innocence mission were still in high school when they met and started making music together. Through eighteen years of recordings and tours, both on their own and with Natalie Merchant, Joni Mitchell, Emmylou Harris and 16 Horsepower, the band has gained legions of devoted listeners. And they have grown immeasurably as songwriters, singers and musicians.
Their new album We Walked in Song is being hailed as one of their strongest works, though for songwriter Karen Peris there was great personal loss in the beginning stages of creating the album. "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," says Badman's Dylan Magierek.
With eleven new songs that are memorable and genuinely moving, the album continues t.i.m.'s progression toward intimate recordings where each note played and sung seems essential. From the shining opening track, "Brotherhood of Man", in which she speaks of connectedness to strangers in everyday moments, to the longing of the closing lines of "My Sisters Return from Ireland", Karen Peris' hauntingly beautiful voice communicates with immediacy. Her very visual, engaging lyrics have a rare emotional depth and a firm sense of place. Inside them the sadness of loss and longing coexist with hope and joy. Don Peris' warm electromatic archtop and Joa Gilberto-inspired nylon string guitar weave their own touching melodies around Karen's voice. The tracks are further lit by Karen's bursts and gentle lines of melodic piano, and they have a rich warmth that is owing, in part, to the combination of Mike Bitts' upright bass and Karen's baritone acoustic guitar and pump organ. As with its predecessor, the critically acclaimed, melancholic Now the Day is Over, the album was produced by the band and recorded by Don Peris.
In describing the innocence mission of recent years one writer suggested that we "think of an American Astrud Gilberto making a record with Buffalo Springfield". Their sound is somewhat unique to them and yet comfortingly familiar. Its naturalness has developed over years of growing and changing, and the members of the innocence mission admit it is hard to recognize themselves in their first, eponymous album. Of their singularly un-hip name, Karen says, "It was so long ago that we chose it but I think the idea was that music can be a shelter, and music is something that is made with pure joy, with purity of intention, purity of heart".
The Innocence Mission We Walked in Song
Rating: 7.5 (which would likely equal a 9 out of 10 in most other mags!- Badman)
Over the course of two decades, the Innocence Mission's name has come to feel less like the mere moniker of another earnest late-80s college-rock act and more like an evangelical pursuit for simplicity and propriety, the result of which has been increasingly tranquil records that are practically defiant in their quietude. But it speaks volumes about their direct, affecting songcraft that principals Karen and hubby Don Peris can boast of a past collaborating with Natalie Merchant, soundtracking "Beverly Hills 90210" and "Party of Five" episodes, and writing songs for Amy Grant's Christian catalog, and yet, 18 years after their band's formation, find themselves right at home releasing a string of quality records for an indie label that counts My Morning Jacket and Mark Kozelek as alumnus.
Even by the Innocence Mission's modest standards, We Walked in Song is especially spare in presentation-- we don't hear drums till the final chorus of the fourth track-- but draw from a deep tradition of solitary music: from Appalachian folk and gospel hymns to breezy bossa nova and the third Velvet Underground album. The myriad of regional and historical influences are appropriate analogs for a record that's often consumed by thoughts of travel-- not from a romanticized, escapist point of view, but from the perspective of those left behind.
Beyond giving Karen's peculiar Joni/Newsom all the room it needs to soar and sigh, the stark arrangements-- built around Don's dew-drop guitar lines-- make the introduction of each new detail seem all the more purposeful, like the way the Hammond organ gives the third verse of "Brotherhood of Man" an extra nudge toward the finish line, or how the subliminal string arrangements and piano chords lurking in the shadows of "Love That Boy" seem to push Karen's object of affection further out of her reach. When the drums finally appear for the finale of "Into Brooklyn, Early in the Morning", in this album's calming context, the effect is as almost momentous as the opening kick-drum crash of "Be My Baby". But this careful craftsmanship would feel overly precious if these songs didn't possess a pleasing, lived-in familiarity that makes you think you've already internalized them through of a lifetime of AM oldies-radio osmosis.
In their less captivating moments-- which emerge in the album's third quarter-- the Innocence Mission can succumb to a certain folk-circle innocuousness ("A Wave Is Rolling"), but even these more typical turns are adorned with intriguing touches-- like the orchestro-flamenco flourishes on "Over the Moon"-- that enhance We Walked in Song's air of muted majesty. "You'll never lose that light," Karen sings on "Song for Tom", though it could easily be a song for them: a testament to the durable, slow-burn beauty of their work, and their softness of touch-- a light that rarely feels lite. - Stuart Berman, Pitchforkmedia.com
"On their ninth album We Walked In Song (Badman), The Innocence Mission makes like an American version of The Clientele, capturing twilit moments in temperate climes. Though the band has always been into ethereal moods and lower keys, We Walked In Song standouts like "Into Brooklyn, Early In The Morning" have a kind of retro classicism, reminiscent of The Velvet Underground and Joni Mitchell, but marked with the concerns of The Innocence Mission's co-leaders Don and Karen Peris. These are songs of grief and deep love, rendered with the gentility of a raindrop. A- " - The Onion