An eerie yet deeply compelling study from a distance.
Distance, loneliness, space and introspection all describe music made over the past 18 months. Anna Tivel’s new album ‘Blue World’ takes all of those to even deeper levels of contemplation.
With one exception this is a collection of songs from her four albums but recast to express how she felt as lockdown took hold. Many might consider Tivel’s quiet, modulated style already perfectly suited to the conditions of the past year, requiring no alteration. Sadness is her trademark, having been quoted as saying she, “just doesn’t trust happy songs as much”. But for this sombre world she, keys virtuoso Galen Clark and the percussion of Micah Hummel have stretched every word and note. Tivel’s hushed vocals, almost to a whisper, delve profoundly into the loneliness and space of people separated from each other making each song sound totally new.
‘Alleyway’ is a story someone told Tivel at a bar. On one level it contrasts the frequent casual contact we used to make with the solitary confinement of lockdown. The original on her ‘Small Believer’ album sounded sparse, this version is almost stripped bare. The space between piano chords and elongated vocals heighten the yearning for a life that might have been but is now the loneliness of, “cleaning rooms at the Super 8”.
A song about seeking better ways of doing things and forgiveness, ‘Shadowland’ from ‘The Question’ would seem in need of little alteration. Yet it is one of the most reworked songs on the album. The keys and percussion almost compete for distance that is the aural version of looking up at the stars.
As perfected by John Prine, a hallmark of Tivel’s writing is her minute detail to portray ordinary lives lived day to day. These pared-back versions magnify that perspective. ’Lillian and Martha’ juxtaposes the detail of Lillian picking up the newspaper thrown onto her porch with the span of a fifty-year relationship that only recently was permitted to be confirmed legally. Then it’s back to the paper from which “in love and tears, Lillian and Martha wave”. The entire scenario came to Tivel as she drove past a house. Her voice combines the sorrow of Lillian and Martha’s long-secret life together with hope for others now. The rolling piano feels like the years cascading by.
There is one new song,‘Two Dark Horses’ that will feature on a release for next year. It is another snapshot from a car window that Tivel develops into a deep metaphor for the human condition. Her ethereal voice guides a hypnotic piano line as she imagines the lives and suffering endured by these two creatures that eventually break free. “Two dark horses, storm behind them, freedom finally come.”
The title track closes the album. A song about death, revamped it becomes less about one person and more a prayer for all the losses endured over the past year. ‘Blue World’ reverberates with space. Even each touch of cymbal feels like a breath.
For an album that stresses distance, ‘Blue World’ brings a sense of togetherness. As Tivel states in her liner notes she sought, “something warm and resonant to cure the vast empty”. ‘Blue World’ requires complete attention so do nothing else, just listen and be restored.