Anna Tivel: Small Believer
Fluff and Gravy – 29 September 2017
Small Believer is the latest offering from Portland singer-songwriter Anna Tivel. She offers insightful and often moving images of ordinary lives drawn from stories heard and post-gig conversations while out on the road, written while touring or in between her spare time doing the odd waitressing shift or delivering Meals on Wheels. Indeed, it was a conversation with a fellow waitress that gave rise to the collection of images that form the vignette that is the waltzing bluesy Last Cigarette.
The album opens in Illinois, a strummed melancholic snapshot of “shattered glass, a photograph of a broken heart, a crack along the windshield of the world”, that sense of bruised lives also at the heart of the equally languid Saturday Night as she sings “in the basement apartment, a shadowy man, he just stares at the wall. He can’t sleep, and me I’m just part of the darkness, just trying to get something right on a Saturday night.”
Even sadder, Alleyways is about a broken relationship sung in the persona of an alcoholic remembering the family he lost, heartbreakingly remarking “now i got work, down the street, cleaning rooms at the super 8, sometimes i take the path home by the river, i wonder what our daughter’s like, yeah i hope that family treats her right and gives her all the things we couldn’t give her.”
Things don’t get any sunnier on Dark Chandelier, another softly sung and strummed number about a man let go from his job of thirty-one years as he “lies drunk on his own front lawn at three in the morning, his work shirt still on. He curses the man, and he curses his boss” before he takes off in his car and crashes in an attempted suicide. However, a note of hope seeps in as, waking in blood, fire and to the sound of sirens, thinking of his wife and daughter, he tells the angels “don’t take me tonight, i got work to do yet.”
Blue World equally concerns death and leaving the world behind in the hope of something better (“there’s a shine to a night like this, and the stars never fell so near your soul like a golden gift, and it rises and disappears”). Indeed, as the album heads to its close, there’s more hope and optimism, even amid the sadness. Riverside Hotel came from her seeing a homeless man finding peace while sitting and watching a building go up, brick by brick, while the slow shuffling An Ordinary Dance (where she recalls vintage Janis Ian) balances regret (“nobody remembers anymore, it’s just another story that never got told”) with the lines “And oh, oh my god, i wanted to do something great. And oh, but i loved, and i guess that’ll do anyway…You know times were tough, but they turned out ok.”
Likewise, on the organ-backed All Along the narrator tells her leaving, restless lover (“like a hubcap on the highway”)that “if you get lost and you get lonely, know that somewhere I am singing you this song. Honey, I have loved you all along.”
It ends with the title track, a lovely wistful song, coloured with nature imagery, about finding your way home, bruised and broken down perhaps, but, “alive i guess”, holding “a tattered hope, a small belief, kaleidoscope of half-lived dreams A photograph of something sweet.” Open, honest and deeply affecting, it’s her best work yet.
Small Believer is out September 29th via Fluff & Gravy
Photo Credit: Jeffrey Martin