Even in silence—typically not the preferred way to experience music for the first time—the tunes crafted by Portland poet/songstress Anna Tavil expose themselves as tidbits of magical observations set to angelic melodies.
That's right, in silence, her words are musical.
Hopping on the Internet to investigate the interestingly-named band, Anna and the Underbelly, ahead of its upcoming show March 6 at The Belfry in Sisters, a header on its website simply indicating "words" caught my attention even before the widget streaming songs from its debut album, 2013's Brimstone Lullaby.
Clicking on it revealed a world of imaginative prose rummaging through ordinary occurrences and transforming them into a blissful dream, just like that hipster camera filter might do when it fuzzes out the edges of an otherwise innocuous photo of a pair of shoes or the entrance to a rundown storefront.
While all songs are in some way a form of poetry, Tavil's approach seems more rooted in the craft than most.
Lyrics from "Rosy-colored skulls" as an example:
"Oh our home it is, just a hole in an old oak tree,
And the birds and the bees are flying through our living room and watching our tv
Come October we'll, fill our blankets up with leaves,
But for now we can dangle down our feet below and collect nuts and things
And holy Augustine, just let me sleep tonight
With one arm around a great white dove
And the window open wide."
In this song—about seeing the world from a treehouse—Tavil captures the childlike innocence of a pristine world unscathed by adulthood. And though the lyrics are metered and picturesque by themselves, generously, Tavil completes the artful expression by setting the words to folksy, uncomplicated acoustic chords with banjo and a cadence as lively as a stone skipping across cool, still waters.
Even when talking about her songs, like the haunting "Reservation Road"—a tune propped up by her soft, smoky and resolute voice—Tavil can't help but engage in subtle verse. She describes her inspiration with delicate details.
"'Reservation Road' was a poem I wrote about this eerie stretch of road in my little hometown in Northern Washington," explained Tavil to Hearth Music last year. "It's the first song I ever wrote from a poem, which is probably why it [...] has lots of words and next to [no] chords. [...] It's the kind of quiet road where you can hear a dog barking somewhere far away, or a coyote. And the few houses through the trees are dark except for the blue flicker of a TV, or the glow of someone's cigarette on the porch, even at 3 or 4 in the morning."
Clearly, Tavil's lyrics are appended to prose with or without the music. Thankfully, she provides the former rather than the latter.
Anna and the Underbelly
7 pm. Thurs., March 6
The Belfry, 302 E. Main Street, Sisters OR
Tickets $10 at the door