The last Innocence Mission release was 2010’s My Room in the Trees. I’ve been a big fan of the band since I inquired about my youth minister’s copy of Glow on top of the youth group boombox in the mid-90s. My Room in the Trees, however, stood out to me as one of their best. It featured the amazing “God is Love”:
God is love, and love will never fail me
God is love, and love will never fail me
If I’m driving there today
And I really am this afraid
God is love, and love will never fail me.
I’ve quoted it from the pulpit before and have sung it to myself not a few times.
I listened to that song and album in the midst of some dear friends moving out of our triple-decker community house (“Some birds I know are moving on this weekend”). I needed to hear “God is Love,” because we were in the midst of a major transition: our second child was soon to be born.
Without recounting the entire birth story here, I can simply say that his safe arrival left us in tears–more than the “usual” baby-being-born kind of tears. Some last-minute delivery challenges gave us quite a scare–but then there was baby #2, safely being cuddled by his mom and me. It may seem a small thing to The Innocence Mission to sing, “Stay calm… stay calm,” but that line from North American Field Song carried me through some shared moments of difficulty. I still think that is the best song they’ve ever recorded, and one of the very few songs I would ever consider calling “perfect.”
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This Friday The Innocence Mission releases Hello I Feel the Same, their first album since My Room in the Trees.
If you are still, 20 years later, longing for the killer drums of 1995’s “That Was Another Country” (my second favorite track of theirs), or the opening track to 1991’s Umbrella, you will be left waiting again till next time. (Every new Innocence Mission I harbor a secret hope that Karen and Don Peris will ply their trade with a rocking band behind them. I’m long-suffering.) Mr. Peris does, however, lay down a sweet drum groove on “Barcelona,” the album’s fourth track. It’s like a fresh-water version of recent Mark Kozelek. The drums make another cameo before the album ends.
The first two tracks are classic Innocence Mission, with just a touch of drums and subtle bass harmonica (!) coming in a minute or so into the second song. Don Peris’s high-register guitar arpeggios and pleasingly breathy background vocals complement Karen Paris’s good-as-they’ve-ever-sounded vocals.
Track 3, “Washington Field Trip,” is this album’s “North American Field Song”–at least as I listen to it. Here is the band, only “wanting to be helpful in this life,” helping–whether they mean to or not–by laying down a devastatingly beautiful song with actually perfect piano tone. Never was a three-note melody in a chorus so haunting. The Perises, again, get into soul territory:
I do not want fear to hold me
I don’t want to be kept from loving at all
The longest song on the album is 3:43. Four songs don’t even reach the three-minute mark. You want all of these songs to keep going, but therein lies the duo’s approach and artistry.
Highlights include “Blue and Yellow” (what The Truman Show might have sounded like had Karen and Don Peris scored the movie) as well as the moving (and highly singable) tribute, “Fred Rogers,” which calls to mind Lancaster, PA (and, now that I think about it, maybe also heaven):
And you know I hate to drive
Maybe I’ll see you at the station
“The Color Green” features viola and violin and closes the album in a wonderfully fitting way–ascending piano with gorgeous melody in the right hand, joined by all manner of longing-inducing string parts.
And darn it if the song doesn’t resolve to the tonic at the end! One hopes The Innocence Mission will not make their listeners wait five more years to hear what’s next.
Hello I Feel the Same is another excellent effort from some beautiful makers of art and music.
Thanks to The Innocence Mission’s publicity team for early access to the album for the review. I’m sure it’s available on Amazon and iTunes, but why not support the band more directly? Check out the album at their Bandcamp page here.