June 4, 2019 Mariee Sioux – Grief In Exile (Album Review)
Singer-Songwriter Mariee Sioux has long been a part of the California Folk scene, and now she is set to return on Friday, June 7th with her brand new album, Grief In Exile, via Night Bloom Records.
Marking her third overall studio album, listening to Grief In Exile is like taking a vision quest. Ten songs in total, nowhere is this audio-induced imagery stronger than the album’s opener “Black Snakes.” With the sound of rushing water in the background, Sioux’s beautiful acoustic finger-picking sets the mood of tranquil turmoil, a dark buzzing of electricity indicating impending change. With a voice that is morosely angelic, it commands your attention, and for as young as she still is, Ms. Sioux shows the maturity as well as musical mastery of someone twice her age.
Next up, “Baby Wave” starts out sounding like an old Gospel song before quickly giving way to something much more haunting. With her trademark singing style, Sioux initially misdirects the listener into thinking they will hear something heavenly and pure, but instead, she sings: “Tried to carry a baby wave to her cradle but she slipped away. Even boat arms could not save her from a red coral grave.”
Then, on “Goose Song,” for the first time the vocals take a backseat to Sioux’s instrumental compositions. Playing an Italian serenade-like guitar, she subtly experiments with vocal patterns uncommon in the genre, including some intelligent time dilation that keeps the song fresh from beginning to end. Thereafter, “Never Known” is one of the most mystical cuts on the album by far, with the rhythmic tambourine making the whole thing feel like you are watching a Native ritual from afar. This is all while the album’s title-track features a guitar sound that is the most hopeful with a cathartic melody underlying the album’s most intricate rhyming schemes and clever turns of phrases.
The back-half of the album kicks off with “Behind the Veil,” and though Sioux’s work is firmly rooted in Native tradition, this piece shows modern America’s slight influence on her musicianship. Despite that, however, she stills finds inventive and subversive ways to make the sound entirely her own. In this case, she uses her vocal melody in percussion-like fashion while the cello in the background heightens the listener’s emotions. Continuing the trend of modernity creeping is “Snow Knows White.” Adding a piano into the mix, the slower pace gives it the feeling of Anna Nalick’s “Breathe,” and piano’s higher notes combine for a purely feminine energy that Sioux harnesses for maximum effect.
“Coyote with the Flowering Heart” is the most traditional offering so far, though the cello helps nuance it enough to justify its appearance on an otherwise exciting and unique album. This is before “Love Like Water,” which wisely returns the focus almost exclusively to Sioux’s voice, with the guitar mostly serving as little more than background noise. Sioux’s self-harmonization is breathtaking, and her storytelling paints a picture of America at its absolute finest, before all the smog and skyscrapers and selfishness raped the land of her sacredness. That said, she gets bonus points for lyrics that tie directly back into the album’s opener.
Already an engaging listen, the album concludes with “My Birds,” covering familiar territory but with Sioux’s genius similes and metaphors making the notion of “I’m still standing” and “I’m still breathing,” a brand new experience worth hearing.
Overall, Grief In Exile is the sonorous spiritual experience you have always wanted but never quite had, placing you high up in the sky while watching a time-lapse of storm clouds roll over and transform the Sierra Nevada desert below. In truth, Sioux’s life has seen its share of storms, but like the desert beneath the listener’s vantage point, green grows after the rain just as peace appears after the pain. There is no question that Sioux is a Folk superstar, whether the masses are aware of it yet or not, and this album continues to cement her status as one of the best singer-songwriters in the business. For these reasons and more, Cryptic Rock gives Grief In Exile 5 out of 5 stars.