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Columns > David Steinberg - Some Are Mathematicians

Published: 2013/02/28
by David Steinberg

Anna and the Underbelly – Brimstone Lullaby

Editor’s note: ZZYZX keeps the streak alive this month with a CD review…

Portland, OR is starting to have an interesting roots scene. One of the signs of this is when you start to have bands mix and match performers. The Shook Twins’ current lineup features a woman named Anna Tivel. When the Twins played at the Triple Door recently, they performed a song from Tivel’s solo project – Anna and the Underbelly. The song was good enough and it was an interesting enough name that it stuck with me. A few weeks later I saw the album on the iTunes store and picked it up.

The music on the disc is fitting for the region in which she hails. The music is mostly melancholy. It’s more of a Sunday morning album than a Saturday night party disc, especially because Anna’s strength is that of a lyricist. Her songs are filled with lines that intrigue and haunt. Sometimes it’s a line or two that stands out like “Rosy-Colored Skulls” intriguing contrast of the mystical and practical of, “If you’re lonesome, there’s a sky all full of stars/If you’re hungry, there’s always something buried in the backseat of our car” – although to be honest, almost any line or two from this song can catch your attention. It’s an amazing piece of lyrical work – or “Reservation Road”’s fascinating, “Sing the song your brother did the day that you were born.”

Brief couplets aren’t her only strength. Other songs have the strength of a perfect pairing of music, lyric, and inflection as in when “The Vultures of Cherry Hill” is suddenly interrupted by, “Oh my God, what have I done?” which completely changes the tone of the song for a second. There’s the bizarre “Bullet in the Brain” which for the most part is a train song, but which has the title sung as a recurring line and the image of someone desperately praying after (perhaps) being hit with a baseball bat. Other than “Rosy-Colored Skulls,” “The Tallest Man” combines her talents the best. The song seems to be about the Middle East and the dangers in the region, but put under a element of beautiful imagery that only paints half the picture. “Golden city come and see the roots of all the olive trees/Are buried underneath a thousand prayers” sure brings Jerusalem to mind and – if so – “Stop the bus, I’m getting off, I watched that building turn to dust” definitely has a sinister twist to it. Even in a song filled with “angry hoards” and people sleeping with guns, fearful of aging, Tivel still manages to find a way of getting some inspiring and enchanting lines showing the joy her characters have as they sway back and forth on a structure.

Anna and the Underbelly might indeed be an apt name for the band. Put it in on a grey Northwest January day and the music will snuggle in your lap like a cat. However, if you take it for granted and pet its stomach, you might find some unexpected scratches.


David Steinberg got his Masters Degree in mathematics from New Mexico State University in 1994. He first discovered the power of live music at the Capital Centre in 1988 and never has been the same. His Phish stats website is at and he’s on the board of directors for The Mockingbird Foundation. He occasionally posts at the blog and has a daily update on the Phish Stats Facebook page

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