Ida’s Lovers Prayers has a pedigree any album would be hard-pressed to live up to. After touring for 2005’s Heart Like a River, the band abandoned New York City for the Catskills. There, Ida holed up in the home studio of the Band legend Levon Helm. He helped the members of Ida flesh out new songs by inviting them to play at his fabled Midnight Ramble concerts. While Lovers Prayers isn’t quite the stark, woodsy masterpiece that background might have made it, the album is an arresting work of quality indie-folk.
Ida often gets compared to Low (a band Ida has toured extensively with), appropriate since the two bands share similarities musical and otherwise. Both bands are anchored by a romantic couple. Although Low’s last two albums have dabbled in hard rock and glitch pop, many songs on Lovers Prayers still sound like Secret Name-era Low. “The Weight of the Straw” moves slowly over an insistent, hushed drum beat, with feint instrumentation in the background provided by Jean Cook of the Mekons and Jane Scarpantoni, who has played with Rufus Wainwright. And Ida’s Elizabeth Mitchell and Daniel Littleton can harmonize gorgeously together when they want to, just like Low’s Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker can.
An album of fourteen rather slow, similar songs is bound to bog down, which Lovers Prayers does. A couple of songs that Mitchell dominates, “Kora” and “First Take,” shuffle around in minor keys, never really finding their centers. Songs that take on more of an alt-country, honky-tonk vibe, like “Worried Mind Blues” and “See the Stars,” at least offer a change of pace. The second wisely interjects a much-needed shot of electric guitar toward the album’s end.
So it’s left to a handful of standout tracks to carry the album. “The Love Below” is no Outkast cover. In its own much more understated way, though, it is about physical intimacy and its parallels to religious ecstasy, as Mitchell sings, “All praises to the love/ From below and from above.” “The Killers 1964” relates some of the action from the film of the same name and release year that starred Lee Marvin, Angie Dickinson, and Ronald Reagan. With pastoral instrumentation interspersed into simple guitar strumming, the song is the best of its indie-folk storytelling type since Sun Kil Moon’s “Glenn Tipton.” And the album ends on a sweet, pretty note with “Blue Clouds.” Like Low’s “In Metal,” it features Littleton and Mitchell singing hopeful lines to their child like “all your dreams await you” over jangly ukuleles.