Personnel: Karen Peris (vocals, guitar, piano, field organ, tambourine); Don Peris (vocals, guitar, drums); Mike Bitts (upright bass).
While some fans still pine for the full-bodied folk-rock sound of the band's early-'90s major-label era, the Innocence Mission have essentially been an acoustic folk act since the release of 1999's Birds of My Neighborhood. The comforting, hushed style they presented on that record has remained largely unchanged over the years and the bulk of their output since then reflects the quiet, intimate world of husband-and-wife team Don and Karen Peris. After a five-year break, the Innocence Mission pick up right where they left off on Hello I Feel the Same, the Pennsylvania group's 11th studio LP. Even if their stylistic evolution has somewhat plateaued, their songs remain as sharp as ever, with Karen's poetic slice-of-life snapshots revealing a warm inner world of family, friends, and the inevitable passage of time. This tender-voiced introspection has been her bailiwick since the beginning and her mastery of wistful melancholia and living on the vague edges of seasons is unparalleled. Those without a sentimental bone in their body will likely be unable to connect with the band's hazy nostalgia, but more sensitive listeners will find themselves transported to a world of eternal autumn by lovely tracks like "Washington Field Trip" and "State Park." With its pastoral guitar soundscapes, eerie bass harmonica, and surprisingly massive drum part, "Tom on the Boulevard" is an album standout that bridges the gap between the group's pop and folk tendencies. The charming "Fred Rogers," an account of a dream in which Karen road trips to meet the beloved television host, feels like a natural extension of the Innocence Mission's personality as they once again welcome listeners into their own neighborhood. ~ Timothy Monger