“It’s so unusual,” says Sufjan Stevens. “We think as we get older that our artistry faces a decline in craft and focus. Her songwriting is as strong as or stronger than it was 40 years ago.”
At its most successful, The Soul of All Natural Things is delicate and ghostly, like early Joni Mitchell or the Carpenters' more haunting moments. The appeal of Parallelograms was its idiosyncratic harmonies and gentle new-age psychedelia, and those elements can be found on songs like "River of God" and "Freely." Holter's unusual vocal arrangements are her calling card, and her presence here is a definite asset, especially with the cascading choral setting of "Prisms of Glass." Unfortunately, Perhacs doesn't have the strength of voice she had in the 1970s. Her breathiness and wobble add some character, but she's far from the mezzo songbird she was in her prime.
The album's press notes call The Soul of All Natural Things "subtly polemical," and if that's true, the polemic is too subtle: When Perhacs does attempt to get trenchant, it's in lightweight, noncontroversial plaints like "Every day we work a little faster/Every day we work a little more" and "We're living on the edge/Playing on the edge." The album would have benefited from playing on that edge; instead, it rests on the laurels of its earthy prettiness.