The Gospel of Tree Bark Album by Anna Fritz Reviewed by Paul Christiansen
Friends would find the works of Anna Fritz worth knowing about simply because this talented folksinger and cellist is “one of us.” She grew up in Milwaukee Monthly Meeting; she’s highly active in Multnomah Monthly Meeting in Portland; she’s a frequent attender at the New Year’s Gathering of Young Friends, and she recently made a tour of Quaker meetings throughout Oregon and Washington. But listening to her album, The Gospel of Tree Bark (2013), makes it clear that Anna deserves to be known wherever Western Friend is read, because her music is truly ministry.
As often happens with powerful vocal ministry, the songs in this album aren’t always easy to listen to. In just ten tracks, Anna covers the 2011 Wisconsin labor protests, internalized misogyny, transgender rights, connections with nature (or lack of them), attempted rape, and – repeatedly – lost love. So this album is never lightweight. Instead it is filled with passion and compassion, pain and endurance. Moreover, the melancholy is balanced both by high-energy songs and by pieces that are rich and grounding.
Musically, these songs are grounded in Anna’s solid abilities as a singer and cellist. A longtime member of the experimental Portland Cello Project, Anna is able to produce sounds that are rarely heard from this instrument, ranging from those in the sensual and sexy rock-and-roll track, “TransMan,” to her heartbreaking reworking of the traditional folk song, “The Water is Wide.” In the latter, the melody itself seems to try to take flight and then fall back to earth on the line “. . . and neither have I wings to fly.” I sense that Anna’s musical talent, already formidable, is still developing. Her skills as a lyricist are somewhat inconstant, yet her lyrics are full of lines that take your breath away.
Quaker themes are not apparent in every track, but this album conveys a current of faith throughout. A weary faith, but still hopeful: “When the tide of / pain and sorrow / comes in quickly, and I’m afraid / I trust that I am held / by hands that can’t be felt / and there’s kindness not far away.” This is as elegant an explanation of trust in the Divine as there’s ever been, with Anna’s cello doing its part.
In the end, Anna Fritz points to a gospel that a great number of western Friends would recognize: the endless circle of life that is revealed by the great, quiet forests of the Northwest. There, Anna sings, we can find hope and perspective. Like those trees, we will stand up better to the hurricane that is our world when we stand together, rooted deeply in the right soil. The Gospel of Tree Bark is both a call to action and a call to prayer. Friends will be enriched if they pay heed. This album can be purchased, along with Anna’s other works, at annafritz.com. ~~~
Paul Christiansen first met Anna Fritz at the Western New Year’s Gathering of Young Friends in 2012, and her songs have been stuck in his head ever since. When not humming along, Paul teaches, writes, meditates, and serves on NPYM’s Nominating Committee. He is currently residing in Chicago, but his heart remains within sight of Mt. Rainier, and he is a member of Eastside Friends Meeting in Bellevue, WA.