Villagers – Where Have You Been All My Life?

Villagers – Where Have You Been All My Life?

villagers_wherehaveyoubeen

Some live albums are released warts and all. Think of Hendrix at Woodstock. Some albums are recorded live, but are re-recorded so heavily in the studio that they end up being live only in theory. Thin Lizzy’s ‘Live and Dangerous’ is the standard example. Conor O’Brien has done something different. He’s recorded an album live in the studio with his band. There’s no applause at the end of any of the tracks. Only one song is counted in. In essence this is a studio-quality re-recording of old material plus one cover. Sure, the voice wavers perhaps once or twice on some of the longer notes, but you’d hardly know it was live at all. And therein lies the danger. The pleasure of the live album is found in the inherent tension of the event. The spontaneity of the performance. The live-in-the-studio concept takes all of this away. In fact, it takes it even further away than the radio sessions on stations such as KCRW, KEXP, or MPR, where at least the possibility of a monumental fuck up or faux pas by the band maintains a certain frisson of excitement. By contrast, the pristine nature of the product here raises a very simple question. What’s the point? Happily, Conor O’Brien gives us some answers. The arrangements are beautiful. The playing is tight. And the voice is as ethereal as ever. In other words, it might not have quite the same vibe as Motörhead’s No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith, but it still sounds just great. More than that, it does exactly what only some great live albums manage to do. It allows the listener to reinterpret familiar material. This is particularly the case for the Jackal and {Awayland} songs. Following the revelations at the time of Darling Arithmetic, it’s difficult not hear certain lines differently from before. “He lies awake in his bed every night devising ways to conceal the strain” from ‘That Day’, or “No time for innocence, or sitting on the fence, What are you gonna do?” from ‘The Waves’. It also adds a certain nuance to the cover of ‘Wichita Lineman’. Where Have You Been All My Life? may be a live release, but it’s carefully curated all the same. It’s no One More From The Road, but it has its own special qualities nonetheless.

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