Anna Tivel — Blue World
Without touring, promotion, and all of the other busyness that typically go along with being a professional musician, artists have found themselves with all kinds of previously unimaginable time off over the past 16 months. You and I have benefited with an avalanche of brand-new music, but several artists have also chosen to page through their catalogs and reimagine their own songs in a new way. As the pandemic (hopefully) winds down, we have at least one more of these spectacular projects about to hit our ears. Portland’s Anna Tivel has picked eight of her songs, stripped them down to keys and percussion, and brought all of the sadness (and a little bit of love) to the forefront. Add in one new track, and you have her newest release, Blue World.
The album begins with quiet devastation. “Alleyway” is a brilliant example of the type of songwriting that folks like John Prine have espoused for years – full of tiny details while the story slowly reveals itself. From the first image – “Smoke against the windowpane, just the semis breathing on the interstate” – the song (a short story, really) travels through a doomed relationship. With a little piano and just the lightest of percussion, we follow the tale all the way through to its sad end, the narrator alone and dreaming of her adopted daughter – “Some kids are born for someone else’s cradle.” It’s a master class in storytelling, and the sparse music only enhances the solitude.
Tivel’s only partners on the record are Galen Clark (piano, Rhodes, Wurlitzer and organ) and Micah Hummel (percussion), and their creativity and restraint tease out the best in Tivel’s voice and lyrics – after all, there’s nothing to hide behind. Of course, the songs are good enough to stand on their own, regardless of arrangement. “Minneapolis” is carried by the hope that moving somewhere else will change…something – “But something has shifted, wind in the branches/The cold coming in like a drug” (there it is again in that last line – just a little detail that fills out the picture). While piano and a light brush of cymbals accompany Tivel here, “Illinois” is characterized by Clark’s bluesy organ as Tivel sings about the lonely work of leaving an abusive relationship – “The brightly colored blood of ugly words.” Left unresolved, though, is the question of whether breaking free will fix the broken narrator – “The promise of a place to settle down/All the way from Illinois, and not one to be found.”
The one new track on the album, “Two Dark Horses” (from an album scheduled for release next year) has Tivel recalling a misty early-morning image in an effort to bring beauty to the chaos of, well, pretty much everything else in our world. And it’s that sadness, mixed with the smallest dash of hope, that characterizes Tivel’s best work. “Riverside Hotel” gives us a homeless veteran watching the construction of a luxury hotel, a building which he’ll never be welcomed in – “The ribbon cut and the curtains hung…And the owner tells him move along, go linger somewhere else.” Once essential to his country’s survival (or so he was told), he’s now rendered disposable. Finally, the title track honors the departure of a dear friend (it’s all ordinary, everyday folks in Tivel’s songs). Again painted with subtle details (“And the bells of the mission ring/And the bricks bring an echo back”), the song both reflects the solitary nature of death – “And you come to the heavy gate/And you open it all alone” – but also the freedom In that it brings – “There’s a shine to a night like this/And the stars never fell so near.” In the wake of that soul’s departure, the music drifts for a bit, just as we might, before accepting that it’s over.
Song I Can’t Wait to Hear Live: “Alleyway” – because it’ll feel good to cry in public again.
Blue World was produced by Galen Clark and Anna Tivel, recorded and mixed by Josh Powell and mastered by Jon Neufeld. All songs were written by Tivel.
Go here to order Blue World, out digitally July 16, on CD in August and on vinyl later this year:
Check out tour dates for Anna Tivel here: http://www.annativel.com/tour