The Flight of a Fallen Angel: Inge Andersen’s Journey of Song
by Terry Roland
In Greek mythology, fairy tales and folklore there are stories told of figures of wood and stone that come to life. In familiar stories, told and retold in so many forms, from Pinocchio to Pygmalion, beneath the outer shell is a miraculous soul that emerges into the world. It’s the same with the stories of redemption and resurrections. Mystery religions and gospel tradition often beguile us with accounts of the miracles of Easter risings and pagan dawns. The story of Dutch singer-songwriter, Inge Andersen as portrayed on her debut album, Fallen Angel–produced by her husband, singer-songwriter, Eric Andersen– reflects these age old universals on a deeply personal level.
Her voice echoes the sound of the despair, joy and longings women through the ages; the ache and cry to grow out of the confines placed upon them by society. Gradually, the longing in the timbre of her voice becomes the sound of courage, comfort and transformation. By the time the album is concluded, it feels as though we’ve been allowed to look into a uniquely personal view of one woman’s journey into self-discovery; we have felt a hint of the universal revelation of all women who free themselves from the shackles chained upon them by conventional society.
Even deeper than this, the album transcends gender. It becomes an invitation for all who care to join in human freedom and the call to ‘jump off the deep end,’ as Andersen expresses in one song. While the voice belongs to Inge Andersen, her soul, imparted through these songs, is a part of that one big soul Steinbeck talked about through his character, Preacher Casey in the classic American novel, Grapes of Wrath.
The overused word ‘journey’ is not a cliché when describing Fallen Angel. It tells the story Andersen’s pathway out of the spiritual shackles of professional and personal conventions. She became a PhD in Educational Psychology. But, much of the world around her encouraged conformity. As she described it in a recent interview, “I felt like I had to play the role of someone else. “It was an act. It takes a lot to free yourself from what is expected from you,” she explained. “ It can be scary. Women today in our culture are raised to cling and to adapt. They are expected to loose themselves in the process,” she said.
It was a slow road to freedom for Inge Andersen. “I loved poetry and songs as long as I can remember,” she
reflected. As a young college student during the 80’s, this drew her to the Americana artists who toured the small venues in the Netherlands. During this time she saw David Olney, Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, and Emmylou Harris. But it was the legendary singer-songwriter, Eric Andersen, who caught her attention. More than a decade would go by. She earned her PhD. During that time she married a fellow academic and immersed herself in the world of research, consulting and academic publications. In 2000, she found herself in a personal crisis. “I was at a point in my life when I needed reflection. I went to stay in Switzerland for a while,” she remembered. “ I found that Eric was playing nearby where I was staying. I brought some friends. We ended up sitting at the same table as Eric.” That meeting was the seed of a new relationship that would lead her out of the world that confined her and into the world of a gypsy-troubadour she had long admired. This time Eric Andersen became a doorway into a larger world that led to finding herself face-to-face with her own soul through the self-realization found in song. “This is really the story of liberation,” she said, “a search for who you are. Even though it’s a bumpy road and scary at times, the end is fulfillment.”
The songs on Fallen Angel, each one a distinctive gem, portray the dimensions, chapters and milestones of the journey. This record truly is a song- journal; deeply personal and strikingly universal.
Like any good story the opening track starts us in the middle with the artist in a dilemma. She is the angel falling into love with someone new, which awakens that precious self she had lost so many years before. “To Miss Someone,” hooks us into the heart of a woman who suddenly realizes what it means to miss a lover. By the sound of the lyrics, it’s a new feeling for her. “Will It Ever Be Enough,” allows the artist to look from the outside in through a third-person narrative. The insight here is of the hunger that always lies beneath the surface of a pretty smile that might just ‘fool you.’ The song, “Betrayal,” is the most devastating, revealing and powerful track on the album. It is a look into soul of a divorce when something truly has been divided and destroyed. With lines like, “it’s hard to see the horizon when someone lowers your head,” and “you blew me to bits and then blamed me for being broken,” the honesty becomes almost tangible and in so being, it becomes painful carrying a pathos that is rare.
Rather than allowing her listeners to remain in despair, Andersen draws on joy and celebration on songs like “Jump Off the Deep End,” with a refrain of the healing found in taking risks. There’s a beautiful, playful humor in “The Angel and the Devil,” a straight forward tale of how she met Eric Andersen and who he became to her. It’s a clever twist on the age-old Faustian tale; the heroine makes a deal with the devil, but rather than losing her soul, the devil learns to love and she learns how to play with fire. There’s a nice touch with a cameo by the devil himself toward the end of this track.
“The Mirror of Your Eyes,” is a song of love found and fulfilled as Andersen describes the freedom born in an authentic relationship. “Round The Bend,” the only unoriginal song on this collection is placed well near the end. It is Eric Andersen’s song of redemption from his iconic 1972 album, Blue River, which ironically, in many ways, reflected his own sense of self-discovery and a deepening of his artistic voice at the time. It resonates here because the song describes ‘a bird on a lonely wind,’ and a ‘girl with a lonely mind,’ a foreshadow of someone in Eric Andersen’s future.
While often, songwriter’s stories of self-discovery can walk the fine line of self-absorption, these songs bring light for other as is the case with, “Stay Who You Are,” for Andersen’s 13 year-old daughter; loving words of advice from mother to child.
Finally, the last song is the first recorded for this collection over ten years ago, “Prodigal Son,” produced by The Band’s instrumentalist genius, Garth Hudson. This traditional song written by Floyd D. Jenkins and Fred Rose and once recorded by Hank Williams, is Inge Andersen’s first recorded vocal. It frames the collection with the image of the fallen angel finally returning to heaven and to her home. We have come full circle from her initial fall on the first track. The lyrics also describe the need for compassion and forgiveness. These qualities are very much at the center of this album.
While most newly released recordings only require the selection of two or three highlight songs for review to reflect the overall tone of the album; Fallen Angel is so carefully crafted and woven together, it’s necessary to look at each individual nugget of song as they relate to the jeweled diamond that this album becomes.
The production by Eric Andersen and Michele Gazich is lovingly fitted to the songs and voice of Inge Andersen. The arrangements and instrumentation are tastefully and simply detailed allowing the mood and the meaning of each song to come through with powerful grace. Michele Gazich weaves his piano and string arrangements, in a way that echoes and haunts the songs. His work here parallels the kind of complimentary creative musical conversation Scarlett Rivera once accomplished with Dylan during his Desire days. Eric Andersen’s guitar provides fine percussive strength along with gently realized fingerpicking and just the right vocal touches for color and mood. Most important is Inge Andersen’s voice. Her vocal quality is one of warmth and clarity. Her style of singing is one which is able to convey the pitch of emotion within the song in the way a fine actress can carry a scene on stage. She invites to join her. Her voice becomes the the muse which leads through the heart of this story.
In the world of singer-songwriters, Inge Andersen’s debut is among the most important this year at a time when posturing and image seems to be more important than substance and art. While her story reaches deep into the soul of myth and spirituality, it’s the personal risks and revelations of these songs that make this album so powerful. She has managed to strike a chord which demonstrates how the deeply personal can become even more far reaching in the way it permeates and reaches out to us all. Fallen Angel is a stunning illustration of how an artist can tell their story creating a pathway for the marriage of personal revelation with the universal truth of redemption and the realization of the freedom found in the beauty of the journey through song.