Rivers of Stars

Andrea Perry

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Rivers of Stars Review

by Stanton Swihart

Andrea Perry lives in Austin, TX a scene traditionally more populous with country and roots artists; the Beatles and Brill Building, on the other hand, are closer to her touchstones; and her recordings, made and marketed on miniscule budgets, have reached the public only through niche labels or, in the case of Rivers of Stars, self-release. As a result, her three albums have largely failed to find the audience they deserve. Yet for a songwriter so constrained by practical considerations, Perry's music has always had the uncommon ability to push outward against the seams of life with its overflow of enchantment. And Rivers of Stars contains some of her most enchanting -- and most uniformly excellent -- writing yet. That's a tribute, of course, to her unfailing (and seemingly innate) gift for penning melodies that can nestle as easily into one's heart as into one's memory. Even when they tackle sentiments that we tend to classify as clichés -- which have become clichés, we often need to be reminded, for a reason ("Happy Together" is every bit as naked, candid, and poignant a declaration as "Happiness Is a Warm Gun," after all, if not as artful) -- her songs always confront them head-on with a kind of ingenuous, and generous, emotional directness, shrinking them to quantifiably, and relatably, human-size in the process. For all the demure self-effacement and bashfulness of Perry's vocal delivery, her songs are open books filled with sentences so excited to be alive that they are constantly skittering off the page. But even marked by such exuberance, those songs nevertheless evoke candle-light-and-Cabernet evenings. They are intimate conversations in which playful flirtations feel like profundities and vice versa and where otherwise humdrum utterances become like keys that unlock doors. That said, there is nothing humdrum about the music here, and little in the words either (the most significant upgrade from her first two recordings) that comes across as trite. One partial reason for the advance in the latter category is Perry's new collaboration with award-winning poet S.D. Lishan (the Orphic Prize for the 2006 book-length sonnet sequence, Body Tapestries), whose eloquent lyricism perfectly complements -- and both heightens and grounds -- Perry's castle-building romantic inclinations through its inventive phrase-making, on the one hand, and, on the other, a vigorous physicality. On the four songs on which the two share a credit, his words propose challenges that, in the course of finding musical answers, took Perry out of her comfort zone. And the answers she arrived at are wonderfully vital; in fact, the notes that she chose are every bit as articulate in their way as the words. As a result, the music is as starry-eyed as ever -- like "plung[ing] breathless through a dream," as Lishan's "Reservoir" lyric puts it -- but also much more emotionally lucid, expressive, and searching. And even elsewhere throughout Rivers of Stars where she goes it alone, Perry continues to investigate new themes and imaginative realms -- the telescope on the album's cover is ideal as both a symbolic totem and an overarching metaphor -- without losing any of the (seeming) effortlessness that always makes her work feel, even when it is sober, somber, or downhearted -- even when it is bearing the weight of a little more pain -- like complete joy.

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