BAND OF HORSES: ACOUSTIC AT THE RYMAN (2014)
1) Marry Song; 2) Slow Cruel Hands Of Time; 3) Detlef Schrempf; 4) Everything's Gonna Be Undone; 5) No One's Gonna Love You; 6) Factory; 7) Older; 8) Wicked Gil; 9) The Funeral; 10) Neighbor; 11*) Weed Party.
Acoustic? Aren't these guys always acoustic? Oh no, that's right, they aren't — it's just my memory playing predictable tricks on me, because that is the way you are going to remember your bearded guys playing your usual «Americana» stuff. Anyway, this here is indeed their version of Unplugged, recorded over two nights in April 2013 at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville and released as their first and, so far, only official live album.
Band Of Horses are not the best band in the world, and you are not going to be subjected to any big surprises. The songs, handpicked in a more or less representative manner off each of the band's four albums, are stripped down, but not significantly changed otherwise — you get to hear them in a more «intimate» presentation, with more emphasis on the vocals and, sometimes, extra piano parts that take the place of orchestral and other overdubs, but mood-wise, everything stays the same. No reinventions, fresh interludes, jamming, no in-between-song banter even, which may be a plus in the context of an actual show, but a minus in the context of a live record.
An even harsher minus is that quite a few of these songs worked well only because they were lushly arranged in the first place. Infinite Arms, the band's best album, is only represented by two songs, and the monumental orchestral grandeur of ʽFactoryʼ, especially its coda, is hopelessly lost in transition to the live acoustic environment — the «compensating» piano just does not cut it. It sounds like a pleasant demo version. If you cut away grandeur without replacing it with some well thought-out subtlety, what's to like? Bare bones are bare bones, and should be left for undertakers and grave robbers.
One good thing I am ready to admit here is that the vocals are beyond reproach: solo parts and harmonies all sound exceptionally nice, and the material seems very well rehearsed. It is a pleasant listen all right. But even the song selection is generally questionable (most likely, they were picking the songs that seemed like the obvious candidates for transfer to acoustic), so that I could not recommend the album even in the status of a decent, representative intro to the band's catalog — on the contrary, only some very serious fans of Ben Bridwell will find sufficient reason to own it. Not to mention that, if you really want yourself some of that heart-on-a-sleeve bearded-guy acoustic Americana, there's always The Avett Bros., and frankly, in this kind of setting I could easily lose track of the difference between the two. Thumbs down.