I first came across The
Innocence Mission when I read a rave review of their Befriended
album in the Daily Telegraph of all places. It is perhaps a sign of the
complexity of ageing in the modern space that I’m picking up
alt.folk tips from a frothing bastion of Tory values. It’s perhaps a
further sign of ageing that I’m listening to anything which could
even remotely be described as folk, with or without a
usenet-friendly alt. prefix to cleanse it of crusty Aran-jumper
wearing mental associations.
let’s get a couple of things straight. I don’t read the Daily
Telegraph…except for the music reviews, which are pretty good, and
also to look at the daily Alex cartoon which I’ve been following
since the late 80s when a financial services hero was something to
be. Anyways it’s all on their website for free. And I’m not that
Or maybe I am.
I remember an indie band from the late 80s called 10,000
Maniacs. Very punk name, except unlike punks they could actually
make music. They were
fronted by Natalie Merchant, who went on to have a successful solo
cover of 1998’s solo album Ophelia, Natalie posed languidly stretched out
on a sofa wearing a dark satin dress, high heels and a flower in her
hair. Having tired of commercial objectification a very different
perspective is presented for 2001’s Motherland album – Natalie is pictured in a
leafy glade wrapped in a fusty cardigan and wearing a stout pair of
sensible shoes looking for all the world like a charter member of
the Irish Countrywomens’ Association. And yet for me the most
noticeable feature is the sheer curvaceous womanliness being gently
encompassed by that virtuous cardigan. Obviously, I’m a filthy
scumbag, but that’s not important here - the link is that Natalie is
a contemporary of The Innocence Mission and they have toured with
members of The Innocence Mission are singer-songwriter Karen Peris,
her husband, guitarist Don Peris and bassist Mike Bitts. There was a drummer Steve
Brown, but he left in 1999 to fulfill his life’s dream of opening a
restaurant and they never felt the need to replace him. They first met up in high
school in Lancaster, PA.
After the obligatory exploratory singles and EP, their
eponymous first album was released in 1989. As I said, I came late
first contact was when the Daily Torygraph championed
Befriended upon its release in 2003. Gentle wistful music
with good lyrics and tunes that slowly worm their way into your
subconscious. Take for example the publicity single released from
Sorrow, Two For Joy
Today is a winter
We wear our heavy coats.
The soul of my brother
pure, though he doesn't think so.
Oh one for sorrow,
for sorrow, two for joy.
We walk the whole two miles to
I want to hold his hand but I don't.
The thoughts of my
Where and when they fly I don't know.
coming down from the north road,
what is coming up from the
Though we don't know much at all,
stand ever firmly,
Pure and sparse – a genuine
thing of beauty, it transports you back to the simplicity of
childhood. Anarchy in the UK it isn’t! In the manner of
Radiohead’s Pyramid Song, closing track on the album Look
for me as you go by is sad but hugely uplifting – it’s the song
I would want played at my own funeral. It’s also the only song I
know to include the word “Pennsylvania” in the lyrics and still make
For Me As You Go By
Hang my head low, so
Don't see me only as I am but
see me how I long to
Shining like a flowering tree
under a gray Pennsylvania
Look for me as you go by.
Hang my head low, so
Every burden shall be lifted.
Every stone upon your back
slide into the sea.
It's me for you and you for me.
or me as
you go by
2004, the band released Now the day is over, a collection of
lullabies that Karen Peris used to sing her children to sleep
with. As I said at the
beginning, we’re not talking the filth and the fury of Mötley Crüe
notable releases are 2001’s Small Planes which is more indie
and less folkie than other albums and 1999’s Birds of my
neighbourhood. This latter album is due to be re-released in
April 2006 and contains personal favourite track Lakes of
Canada which indie poster child Sufjan Stevens raved about: “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. 'Lakes of Canada' creates an environment both terrifying
and familiar using sensory language”.
soundbite, this is real music undiluted by crass commercialism. Keep music real and check
out samples of their work at www.theinnocencemission.com and witness the
obsessive completist tendencies of their fans at http://imdiscog.riseofnobility.com.