Growing up in northern Washington state, Portland folk and Americana singer-songwriter Anna Tivel remembers listening to country radio with her dad. It was the storytelling side of country music that initially caught her attention, and she carries that interest in narrative into her own musical work.
An internationally touring artist, Tivel most recently released Blue World, a reimagining of music from throughout the award-winning musician’s career with one new song in the mix.
This time, Tivel trades her usual acoustic string instruments for a jazz combo-like arrangement, with lonely piano from Portland musician Galen Clark and sparse percussion from Micah Hummel.
Tivel returns to the standard voice and guitar versions of her songs, performing at an outdoor house concert on Aug. 15 in Eugene.
Blue World’s effect is a bit like a subdued Keith Jarrett accompanying Adrianne Lenker, lead singer with the acclaimed indie group Big Thief. Recasting Tivel’s work in this light feels quietly inspired, with songs surveying places, people and travel. It also celebrates the act of making music together with other people in the same room and without pretense. It’s like, at the depths of lockdown, stumbling upon the only three musicians playing music anywhere in the world.
The projects came about from what Tivel calls a “pandemic-time loneliness for making music with people and hearing songs come to life in that way: the sounds that come out of other people’s minds.”
Tivel says she selected songs from throughout her catalog that told stories of people struggling, “but also a lot of hope: individual stories of people making it work.”
“It felt like the time to tell those stories,” Tivel says. “We tried to wander as far out as we could into the musical ether. It felt good to play so freely.”
Recording in Portland at a studio called The Map Room — “Map Room Sessions” is appended to the title of each song — Tivel and her collaborators wanted to keep things simple. What’s heard on the album are mostly first takes with little over-dubbing.
Tivel says she specifically wanted Hummel’s jazz-informed perspective, and throughout the album there are even some unusual creative choices such as “hitting things with screwdrivers to create colors that neither of us expected.”
She says Hummel “has this really vast book of colors: chords with all these different shapes to them,” and she loved putting her guitar to see where he’d take her music.
The return to live performance, such as her upcoming concert in Eugene and touring at what’s hopefully the tail-end of the pandemic, has certainly been a nerve-wracking adjustment for Tivel, but a welcome one.
“I don’t think of myself as a natural performer, or someone who draws most of my energy from being in front of people,” Tivel says, but having it taken away for this long, she adds, has really shown how important performance is for her as an artist.
“It was terrifying and sweaty to get in front of people again, but also really heart-fulfilling. I felt like a naked weirdo after so long,” she says. “Getting to be beautifully uncomfortable and feel that live energy, being so vulnerable and feeling people opening up and feeling their own experiences. These first few shows back: It feels like a conversation with people. Just feeling them in the room, it just feels so shared.”
Co-headlining with Tivel and premiering new music of his own will be Jeffrey Martin, a Portland-based musician originally from Eugene. The outdoor house concert is 6 pm Sunday, Aug. 15; $20 advance, $25 door. For more information and to RSVP, email firstname.lastname@example.org.