Turning Inside

The Troubadours of Divine Bliss
Sacred Letters of Surrender (Independent)

By Tim Roberts

For years, The Troubadours of Divine Bliss have been sort of an inverse party band. There's just two of them, acoustic guitarist Aim Me Smiley and accordionist Renee Ananda, and their honey-rich vocals. They don't play all your adolescent radio hits. Their music doesn't instill the need to line dance or pogo or do The Hustle. But their theatrical presence and highly attuned sense of fun always seem to make anyplace they play, or on any recording they release, a carnival of joy.

That was then. This time, the Troubadours are taking an interior voyage into the lives of people they've known and don't know by setting letters those others have written to music in Sacred Letters of Surrender. To be sure, the harmonies and instrumentation are still there, along with guests filling out their sound on mandolin, violin, cello, bass, tampura and drums, but the stories in the songs this time aren't of rowdy bars in New Orleans or street performers they've met while busking in the streets of some town on the other side of the country. They're of deeply personal, intimate feelings and of the catharsis that comes about when things in life are willingly surrendered.

Among the letters shared in song is one penned by Smiley's brother to her while he was incarcerated in Bowling Green. And another written by Ananda's grandfather after the death of his wife, who inspired the title of the Troubadours' second release, Dressing Room for Eternity. Yet Sacred isn't all morose. There's a spirited rendition of "Over the Rainbow" and a cover of Jean Ritchie's "The L&N Don't Stop Here Anymore." And the whole work finishes out with the spirited "Dream to Wake," the kind of song that kick starts you out of your self pity with lots of Dobro and accordion.

"Writers take tours in other people's lives," Harlan Ellison wrote in an introduction to one of his stories in Shatterday. "I have taken what you've given me . . . and I've run it through the purifier of my imagination for the sole purpose of giving it back to you with, I hope, some clarity."

The same can be said of a handful of good songwriters with their ability to take our feelings and experiences, make them their own just for a few minutes, then release them back to us. They're still ours, but somehow they're better, clarified, maybe even less scary or painful.

And that's what the Troubadours of Divine Bliss have done with Sacred Letters of Surrender. They borrowed our pain and gave us back a dream.

Dream on at troubadoursofdivinebliss.com.