- Label: 'Fluff And Gravy Records'
- Genre: 'Indie'
- Release Date: '19th April 2019'
This is a gem of a record.
On her intimate and poetic fourth album, the Portland-Oregon based singer tells stories of ordinary life in which the seedy underbelly of urban life holds more attraction than the shiny surface.
The devil is in the details. In the title track, these include call girls, dirty laundry, bibles locked away and a cross-dressing gas station attendant.
The songs are political only in the sense that Tivel is evidently on the side of underdogs and those callously branded as ‘losers’ in a ‘winner-takes-all’ culture. Fenceline, for example, addresses the human consequences of the physical and symbolic wall erected between USA and Mexico - “Down here at the border, I’m just an animal”.
The album was recorded at Hive studio in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, engineered by the Brian Joseph (Bon Iver, Sufjan Stevens) and produced by drummer and multi-instrumentalist Shane Leonard.
Leonard also wrote the elegant string arrangements, most perfectly realised in Minneapolis, an achingly beautiful song centering on the implicit question ‘should I stay or should I go?’ (“something lost and something won”).
The bluesy Worthless has a darker edge with menacing lyrics which seethe with a barely contained rage: “I never did wrong, I never was tempted, Till the day you named my anger” .
For the most part Anna Tivel’s narratives are quietly literate and understated where the solid foundations we associate with permanence turn out to be built on shifting sands.
In Anthony, a neighbor’s dream home burns to the ground while in Homeless Child a woman wonders what the future holds for a daughter she had to give up for adoption “It don’t take much to go from just enough to nothing in the end”.
There are no easy answers, just a realisation that something needs to change. In the closing track,Two Strangers, the nearest thing to hope is contained in the line: “I’m holding out for something better, what it is, I don’t know”
The influence of Leonard Cohen is obvious and there are also similarities to artists like Marissa Nadler and Lisa Hannigan. But Tivel also has her own voice that she uses to focus on the need to come to terms with loss and/or crises of identity. “I used to be a waste of time .... now I hope I’m something else” she sings on Shadowland.
In truth, her sense of self worth should not be in doubt. The ten songs here are of a singer at the top of her game. Like I said, this is a gem of an record.