Mia Doi Todd is a sensitive singer-songwriter who can make a listener nervous. A classically-trained Yale graduate, the daughter of a judge and a sculptor, blessed with a strong, authoritative voice that tends toward over-enunciation and the stiff interpretive instincts of Judy Collins, Todd evinces a high-art ideal, a life of culture and privilege. She doesn't sound like someone who's ever gotten her hands dirty or hung out in the streets, but as someone who floats over the world in climate-controlled luxury. In reality, she may very well have an excess of dirt under those nails and her life may be plagued with tragedy that she's thus far kept out of listening range. What is the transformative power of music if not to re-create yourself in the image you desire? If she wants to be a lady of refined elocution and decorate her music with flutes, horns and stringed instruments until her music resembles chamber folk, well, that's just dandy with me. But I can see where not everyone is going to eagerly jump on this bandwagon.
However, if you're prone to melancholic types and consider an evening of Nick Drake (OK, now the most overused reference point in modern misery, but it does apply), John Martyn, Joni Mitchell and a spin of Donovan's For the Little Ones album to be an exhilarating experience, well, then Gea and its 11-minute opener "River of Life / The Yes Song" should snuggle you right in. Unlike, say, Devendra Banhart and his ever-expanding troupe of bearded weirdoes, Doi Todd works at refining her songs. Her lyrics are never tossed off. They work deliberately to speak her mind where she deals with the usual vagaries of love while also subtly implying that our current sociopolitical climate is rather, uh, fucked. Throw in some hippie drum circle percussion and let her – like Calgon – take you away.
Rob O'Connor writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to email@example.com.