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Song You Need to Know: Anna Tivel, ‘Fenceline’

Singer-songwriter takes on the complexities and realities of immigration.

Anna Tivel, 2018

Anna Tivel, 2018

Matt Dayak

Folk singers have been questioning and denouncing metaphorical border walls in song for decades, from Freddy Fender’s 1982 “Across the Borderline” to the Flatlanders’ 2009 “Borderless Love” to Anail Mitchell’s 2010’s “Why We Build the Wall.” Portland singer-songwriter Anna Tivel contributes her own entry to this long tradition on “Fenceline,” a haunting ballad that tells a cinematic story about a crossing between two lands. “I crawl in the dirt to the edge of a country,” Tivel sings, setting the stakes of the journey at hand. “I traded the night for the last of my money/And holes in the old fenceline.””

It’s easy enough to write a song that imagines a world without borders; much harder to write a song that takes on the present dark, harsh contemporary complexities and realities of borders and immigration. By avoiding any sweeping statements and sticking exclusively to rendering her narrator’s plight in vivid imagery, Tivel’s song does just that. But when a moment of revelation does arrive, it’s less inspiring than devastating: “Down here at the border,” Tivel sings to a swelling set of strings and dark piano chords, “I’m just an animal.”

In This Article: Song You Need to Know

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