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The Innocence Mission | Befriended (Badman)
Steady as she goes. The Innocence Mission's satisfying seventh album contains few surprises, other than its release on the Badman label (also home to James William Hindle), which at least means long suffering fans in the UK and elsewhere won't have to pay such excessive import prices. After Don Peris's 2001 solo collection 'Ten Silver Slide Trombones' demonstrated his continuing development as a guitarist, singer, drummer and writer, 'Befriended' sees Don and wife Karen back in more familiar guise, with bassist Mike Bitts making up the trio. The sound of the record is similar to that of 'Birds of My Neighborhood' and 'Christ is My Hope': each element, be it guitar, vocal, bass or drums does just enough, and at just thirty-six minutes long the sense of restraint is complete. There is an evening peace and contemplation here, stemming from Don's use of open tunings and of course Karen's magical, wistful singing, which many rank up with Hope Sandoval and Natalie Merchant, with whom she has collaborated. I still love the way Karen phrases her voice, swallowing the words like asides, leaving the meaning hanging in the air or not present in this world. Don is such a varied player, from strumming to bossa-picking, from ahead to behind the beat, from dark acoustic to echo-chamber electrics, tremelo to slide. The pace of the record rarely extends beyond "walking", indeed there seems to be large number of references to said activity in the lyrics, rising explicitly in the title Walking Around. When Mac was Swimming has a pretty chord sequence and a lonestruck tambourine. Martha Avenue Love Song is another standout, with Don's backing vocals working deferentially in the background. I Never Knew You from the Sun is dedicated, as in fact is the album as a whole, to Mary McCullough, "most beautiful mother and friend". Sweep Down Early is the standout track in a commercial sense, a charming throwback to Sonny and Cher '60s ballads which should be part of popular culture now. No Storms Come has lyrics adapted from the Gerard Manley Hopkins poem 'Heaven-Haven (A Nun takes the Veil)', about which I know nothing. But talking of Gerards and poets, the sleeve reminds me of a Blue Aeroplanes 12" from 1986, 'Lover and Confidante'. There you go. 'Befriended' is like a fragile flower on the edge of a field of GM canola, a symbol of natural beauty in a world of mass-produced illusions.

Richard Bell
CWAS #13 - Autumn 2003