I can say with a great degree of certainty that years ago I never would have predicted that a band who started as a group of friends who met during a catholic high school production of Godspell would go on to make music that stands as some of my favorite in my collection.
But thankfully musical taste doesn't have to be predictable and is probably best if it isn't. I suppose in my younger years I would have found the albums of the Innocence Mission a bit too precious and perhaps even been turned off by the devotional aspects of their songwriting before even hearing it. Which is odd because for a long time I've listened to plenty of spiritually-based music from gospel to country to classical – Bach is a long standing staple at our house – it's just that I don't have much in the way of ... well, Christian rock. So why is this? I suppose it goes back to a single artist in the mid 80s – namely Amy Grant – whose music, packaging and promotion of a Christian message through rock music could never sit right with me. Obviously millions of people would disagree with me and based on her huge and continued success, I could be the one missing something here. So this is again I believe a case where labels probably do more harm than good – at least for me anyway.
But husband-and-wife songwriting team Don and Karen Peris, who along with bassist Mike Bitts make up the current line-up of The Innocence Mission, create distinctive music that could almost be described at times sounding like Astrud Gilberto singing with Simon and Garfunkel. Their music has gone through a transformation over the years since beginning in 1989 and has become more sparse, starting with the stripped down sound of 1999’s Birds of my Neighborhood (which had been sadly out-of-print on RCA but was re-released last year). Now working as a trio, having little to no percussion and a foundation based largely on acoustic instrumentation, their sound became more focused and intimate. And at the same time their songwriting began to explore strongly contrasting themes of melancholy, hope, personal loss and faith. However as great as Birds of My Neighborhood is, and it’s a favorite of mine, I believe they are currently making some of the best music of their careers.
Today marks the release date of their ninth full-length LP We Walked in Song, which is gratefully being released on vinyl, as was Befriended, through Badman Records. Being the vinylphile that I am, my LP copy is on order and hopefully will be arriving shortly. But if the track "Into Brooklyn" which features harmonium and nylon string guitar along with some beautiful lyrical imagery is representative of the album as a whole, it's going to be another quietly understated masterpiece.