Thank God. After years of having a major label try to groom them to be a pop act and then bouncing from one small imprint to the next after their major label home went under, Pennsylvania’s Innocence Mission have finally landed with a company that understands what they’re all about. If there has ever been a better band/label match than The Innocence Mission and Badman, I don’t know what it is. And just to top off the fact that they’re finally with a label that will promote and support them properly, the band has added yet another stellar listing to a discography already crowded with near-perfect releases.
The Innocence Mission have always revolved around the husband and wife duo of Karen and Don Peris, a fact that has become even clearer since the departure of founding drummer Steve Brown prior to Birds Of My Neighborhood. The pairing of Karen’s vocals with Don’s guitar is the key to the band’s sound.
Simply one of the most distinct voices in music today — once you’ve heard her sing you’ll never mistake her for anyone else — Karen has an airy, fragile voice that draws you into her simple melodies and lends an enormous emotional punch to the unmistakable poetry of her lyrics. Karen’s style of writing — managing a balance between a deeply confessional style shot through with glimpses of her family and faith and more abstract poetry — is matched among her contemporaries only by Over The Rhine’s Linford Detweiler.
If Karen is the singing voice of the band, then the primary instrumental voice comes from Don’s guitars as he moves from shimmering electrics to subtle picking on acoustic. Since the band’s departure from A&M Records and their subsequent freedom from the pressure to deliver a radio single, they have moved further and further into a sound marked by 70s folk sensibilities. They contributed a track to Badman’s John Denver tribute disc of a few years ago, and Denver is a fairly obvious influence on their own work, as is Nick Drake.
The Innocence Mission are a band that has managed to prove absolutely the old adage that record sales are not an indication of quality. Consummate musicians and brilliant writers, the band has largely slipped through the cracks throughout their entire career simply because they didn’t fit neatly into any radio programming format. They’re too mellow to be pop, not nearly angry enough to be alternative, too lush to be folk, and too positive for the indie hipsters who crave irony above almost all else. Perhaps now that they’re rubbing shoulders with like-minded musicians such as Hayden, Mark Kozelek, and Low over there at Badman, people will start to take notice.
Written by Chris Brown.