Album Review: Anna Tivel, ‘Outsiders’

There are times on her new album, Outsiders (out August 19 via Mama Bird Recording Co.), when Anna Tivel seems to have her own weather patterns. Close your eyes and watch the colors swirl, feel the wind shift. She is at the helm of something intangible and distant, behind the wheel that drives the fog off the water.

In her bio, she notes the album is “a small prayer of recognition for loneliness and love, and all the ways we try and fail and try and fail again, to see each other clearly and let ourselves be seen.”

Indeed, her songs this time amplify empathy for animals, humans, and at one point all living things on the Earth, as the title track imagines the emotional journey of the astronauts who first landed on the moon—a subject not new to writers. Tivel, however, tackles its margins with the kind of wonder that’s as palpable in the inarticulable careening of her voice as it is in the actual lyrics.

“Black Umbrella” is a sort of murder ballad akin to Bob Dylan’s “Hurricane” in its epic, unrhyming lyricism. It ends with a stunner line that makes the whole thing ring with injustice, and the listener is right here with her, waiting for it all the way.

“Two Dark Horses” is an arresting word-painting carried upon Tivel’s careful voice and its haunting, bird-like melody. It’s followed by “Royal Blue,” a love song atop delicate percussion and occasional atmospheric adornment. Indeed, the instrumentation throughout the disc vacillates between quiet, minimalist acoustic guitar and more intricate percussion-forward arrangements. The juxtaposition would make less sense in many folks’ hands, but Tivel carries her songs carefully.

Indeed, the careful way she inhabits these songs underscores the delicate nature of her “outsiders,” and perhaps indeed the delicate nature of us all. In “Ruins,” for example, she sings: “It’s hard to say sorry, it’s humble and scary / a gust of wind tearing your mask away.” There is, in all of this, an existential discomfort with the loss of control—a photograph, perhaps, of us all in the present moment.


Outsiders is available HERE.


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