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Ida



Yes, Ida makes some of the loveliest, subtlest folk-flavored indie rock you're likely to hear. But no, Ida is not another of the surnameless singer/songwriters that seem to be strumming guitars all over college radio stations these days. In fact, Ida is a quartet from New York City. The inspiration from the name came back in 1992 when the group's core duo, Daniel Littleton and Elizabeth Mitchell took a road trip to California and met Ida Machado Schaffer, a 92-year-old artist and occasional clairvoyant who told the couple stories about growing up on a Southern California ranch. When they returned to New York, Mitchell and Littleton began recording as Ida, and soon recruited Littleton's brother Michael to play drums and Karla Schickele to play bass.

Ida's music is about a continuous process of getting emotionally lost and found again; these are melancholy, languid "you and I" songs about fractured, flawed love, about getting older with someone, about all the secret nuances and idiosyncrasies of knowing someone intimately. Littleton and Mitchell, who married in 1999, fill their songs with notes and errata on their relationship, making the experience of listening to Ida oddly (and not unpleasantly) voyeuristic. The songs themselves are lovely and graceful; slow-motion musical poems that perfectly match the lyrics. Littleton, Mitchell, and Schickele all sing, their melodies gentle and reassuring, their harmonies sometimes almost painfully beautiful. Ida's compositions are measured and minimal, often defined by voice, piano, and guitar, but an eclectic assortment of additional instruments -- including violin, cello, melodica, accordion, and various percussion instruments -- add haunting flavor. Ida has toured and played with Low, Codeine, and Retsin at various times, and comparisons with all those bands are certainly in order, but Ida's sweet honeysuckle sadness is an entity unto itself. Truly beautiful stuff.

Ida put out their first three records, Tales of Brave Ida (1995), I Know about You (1996), and Ten Small Pieces (1997), on Simple Machines. After Simple Machines went bust, Ida signed Capitol Records, which turned out to be a complete disaster, and they wound up finally releasing their next record, 2000's Will You Find Me, on Tiger Style Records. In 2001, they quickly followed up with The Braille Night, a series of songs culled from the Will You Find Me sessions, but much darker and starker in tenor.

"Triptych," a delicate little diary entry of a song, comes from Will You Find Me.

"Blizzard of '78" is one of the most energetic songs on the otherwise somber, restrained Braille Night. It's a rousing, slightly anguished epic featuring heart-tugging harmonies from Mitchell and Littleton.