Whenever I would go over my grandma’s house when I was little, I loved to explore the different nooks and crannies – whether that was the crawl-space attic or the dingy basement. It was fun finding things from way before even my mom was born and trying to figure out the story behind it. There’s something so magical about rediscovering something from the past and creating your own story about it.
I can’t imagine what I would have done if I found 350 love letters written to my grandma from my grandpa while he was over seas in the South Pacific during WWII. When Peter Miller, of the 6-piece band We Are The Willows, had that exact scenario happen to him, he brought them to life the only way he knew how – through music. The band’s second full-length album, Picture [Portrait] is based off of those love letters.
The first part of the album came out back in 2014 and the second part of the album comes out today. The album explores “themes of family, separation, life, death, and identity in a time of national and personal crisis,” through the letters of Peter’s grandpa Alvin. Peter hoped to carry on the life of his grandfather through these songs and he has succeeded.
The songs on Picture [Portrait] have almost a dream-like effect. When listening to them, it feels like you’re sitting there reading the letter as a vision of Peter’s grandpa writing it pops up in a floating cloud beside you.
The simplicity of the songs brings out the raw emotion that’s behind the words. In “(July 5th, 1942),” the day that began it all is brought to life. The line “on July 5th, there was restlessness for the holiest in their tabernacle bliss” is full of anxiety for the days to come but what really got me was the simplicity of the repetition of, “this new life, my new life.” You can feel the ache in your chest when you listen to those words over and over and realize the sadness that Alvin felt when we knew that he wouldn’t be seeing his love for quite sometime.
A similar approach was taken in “(Wherever You Go, Whatever You Do).” The strain of being on the other side of the world from the love of your life has to take a toll on a person. I could feel that sense of loss as the words “so far away” repeated throughout the song; that ache in your chest creeps up on you again. However, the song gives hope that there will be a future for the couple as the line “I’ve reserved a place for you, wherever you go, whatever you do” are sung. Alvin will always have a special spot in his heart for his love.
This album is unlike any other album I have come across. It’s cinematic, poetic, and heart wrenching. The story is a special one and it is told exactly the way it needed to be through these songs.
Article: Merissa Blitz