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Band of Horses live album emulates Nirvana

By Jingyuan Fu
On February 12, 2014

Live albums are tricky beasts - far too often, the sound is either too similar or too different from the music found in a band's studio albums. However, if a live album does manage to tread that thin line, it can exceed fans' expectations. Perhaps the best example of this is Nirvana's live MTV Unplugged album from 1999, which contained a sound quality that was a stark contrast to their typical style but managed to retain the thematic quality of their previous work.
"Acoustic at the Ryman," the new live album released by the indie rock group Band of Horses, attempts to emulate the triumph of the Nirvana album. Their effort is slightly hampered by the fact that the band's music has an inherent folksy feel, but the result is relatively successful regardless.
Recorded in Nashville, the album is rife with Southern musical conventions - though Band of Horses originally began in Seattle, it now works in North Carolina, and the influence of country music is prominent in their performance. The album is a loose compilation of their last four studio albums. "Marry Song," a single from the 2007 album "Cease to Begin," opens the performance with its easily recognizable piano arpeggios. Warm vocals and acoustic instruments bring about an incredible sense of closeness to the piece, and the band's lead singer - Ben Bridwell - finishes with a "thanks, y'all" and is greeted with enthusiastic applause.
The rest of the album possesses a similar feel to "Marry Song," as Band of Horses works through selected songs. There does not seem to be any discernible thematic arrangement to the performance order: "Marry Song" is followed the beautifully rendered "Slow Cruel Hands of Time" from the 2012 album "Mirage Rock." The third song, "Detlef Schrempf," features the bass very prominently, and the recording is intricate enough that it captures every crackle in the instrument. When listening to the song, you almost get the sense that this concert is not a concert at all, but a more intimate event like a classical recital.
The performances are indubitably stellar throughout "Acoustic at the Ryman," but unfortunately the stylistic shifts may not be enough to keep the attention of non-fans. The major issue lies in the fact that all Band of Horses did was build on performances that were already phenomenal and polish some of the rougher edges. The penultimate song of the album, "Funeral," is their most popular single, and it was well performed with haunting piano and cello music supporting Bridwell's vocals - but, like the rest of the songs, brings nothing substantially original to the table. "Acoustic at the Ryman" offers alternative performances of some of the band's most well-loved songs and was recorded at the finest quality, but - in the end - it may be more suitable for the band's existing fans.

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