World Brand New, the stunning self-produced follow-up to Mouths of Babes' award-winning full-length debut Brighter in the Dark, is a Folk/Americana album in the old-fashioned sense: an album with an arc, meant to be listened to all the way through on good headphones with no distractions. With ten songs that range from stuck-in-your-head catchy to cinematic and orchestral, married duo Ty Greenstein and Ingrid Elizabeth take you on the Hero’s Journey hinted at in the cover art: One must venture out to the turbulent sea, step fully into the chaos of the world, and face a reckoning, in order to finally come home. The album can be read as an inner journey, a relationship coming full-circle, and/or a national reckoning — and is meant as all of these.
The album begins, somewhat deceptively, with a pair of irresistible pop songs: Greenstein’s “World Brand New” (a hook-heavy ode to the lost analog joys of the world, written during lockdown) and Elizabeth’s wedding ditty “I Do,” (about “the incurable spell of speechlessness that falls over a person upon glimpsing their true love”).
Just when you think you know what this album will be like, Mai Bloomberg (of Raining Jane/Jason Mraz) enters on cello to introduce “One For Me,” and the listener is pulled deeper into the story. This moment feels something like walking barefoot in a lake on a clear sunny day, only to have the bottom suddenly drop out and need to swim.
In “One For Me,” Greenstein, a self-described “lifelong seeker,” seems humbled, admitting that after all these years “I don’t know if we’re souls and stardust / Or just biology / Seems the only thing I know / Is you’re the one for me.” As the song fades, an oceanic synth loop begins and continues into the opening piano chords of Elizabeth’s Adele-like stunner “Set You Free,” about breaking the chain of generational trauma: “Oh my babies, I beseech you, do as I say and not as I do / Of my fate I wish to set you free / May this sickness die with me.”
The reckoning continues on a somewhat more angsty note with the Mumford-esque “Pictures of You,” which explores the experience of being ghosted by a close friend and left with mountains of evidence: “What do I do with these pictures of you / And of us, by the millions, in cars and in canyons? / And what do you say / To a ghost, anyway?”
These are a lot of heavy questions, and the jubilant “Jubilee,” a cajun/Zydeco romp (reminiscent of Mary Chapin Carpenter’s “Down at the Twist and Shout” and featuring The Avett Brothers’ Tania Elizabeth tearing it up on fiddle) arrives at the midpoint of the album to offer up an answer:
“The idea of Jubilee (the ancient tradition of forgiving debts) was actually the starting point for the writing of this album,” explains Greenstein. “I was feeling unresolved on so many fronts, and was longing for a sense of meaning — and then out of nowhere the friend who had disappeared (in ‘One For Me’) wrote me a sincere letter of apology. Despite trying to force this resolution for years, it happened all by itself, when the time was right.” In this way, “Jubilee” lends a feeling of much-needed grace to the album: “This is how the Hero’s Journey goes / No one ever really knows / Who they’re gonna have to be / Just wait long enough and you’ll be free / In the Jubilee.”
The gorgeous tearjerker “Except for the Love,” which Greenstein wrote about her grandparents who were married for seventy-four years, boils it all down to what matters in the end: “I’ve had my share of anger / I’ve picked my share of fights / And now I’m trying to remember / How anything can matter / Except for the love we gave each other / Except for the love.”
Elizabeth’s “Summertime” is an homage to her own roots, growing up queer in a small, rural town in Southeastern Ohio — as well as to the duo’s many LGBTQ+ fans: “‘Summertime’ is a love song – universal in its ‘hot summer romance’ sentiment yet through a distinctly queer lens.” The dreamy lyrics and lap steel call to mind early Lucinda Williams or Emmylou Harris: “Berries in the bucket, baby's on a blanket / Tomatoes hanging heavy on the vine / The underwear is dancing to a Patsy Cline song / Out on the laundry line.”
Elizabeth explains, “When it comes to inclusivity, Americana music has come a long way in the last few years. But in the current political climate, to proudly proclaim ‘boys like her like the girls like me’ is more necessary than ever.”
Mouths of Babes have never shied away from politics, and in the epic “My Country” Greenstein personifies America as an old friend who is looking worse for the wear. In a narrative that intentionally reflects the more personal themes of the album, she speaks with empathy: “I know each one of us / Has lost somebody’s trust / Despite all we thought we’d be / Sweet lands of liberty / With poems etched on our sides / Of healing the great divides / And opening every door / To the tired and the poor.”
“I feel this incredible sense of anger and disappointment about how this country has not lived up to its ideals,” says Greenstein, “and I realized that the way I feel about it is similar to how I feel about myself and everyone I love. We all start out with ideals, we all miss the mark, and we all deserve love anyway. And one of the central ideas of the album is that we are all capable of redemption,“ as illustrated by the lines: “And now we may not be friends / But the long arc of character bends / Always towards the rising sun / So put down your 300 million guns / The enemy you fear / Is staring back in the mirror / And the battles still left to fight / Are the ones deep inside.”
What better to pull all of these threads together than a Gospel reimagining of the Holly Near classic “I Am Willing”? With a mini-Gospel choir arrangement by Motown veteran and Tonight Show Band alum Vicki Randle, Mouths of Babes use Near’s anthem to close the album and offer an answer to the questions posed by the preceding 9 songs: “I am open and I am willing / To be hopeless would seem so strange / It dishonors those who go before us / So lift me up to the light of change.” By the time the choir sings the final chords, we do feel like we’ve been through something and have come home — a bit worn, but hopeful and ready for what’s next.
As a proudly independent band, Mouths of Babes draws their strength (and momentum) from a fierce, loyal fan base, grown over their many years as road dogs. “We feel incredibly lucky to have been able to make exactly the album we wanted to make and to have such a strong career — thanks to our incredible fans, who believe in directly supporting the music that matters to them.”
Mixed by Nino Moschella of Bird & Egg Studios (Oakland, CA) and mastered by sound designer Bijan Sharifi, the duo created the enchanting sonic landscape in World Brand New with the help of multi-instrumentalist Michael Connolly, percussionists Sean Trishka and Joe Chellman, violinist Tania Elizabeth of The Avett Brothers, cellist Mai Bloomfield of the Jason Mraz band, pedal steel wizard Josh Yenne, Motown/Tonight Show Band veteran Vicki Randle, and Grammy-nominated vocalist Melanie deMore, among others.
Official Release: Fall 2023
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