Release Date: Feb 11, 2014
Record label: Brown Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock
There are two kinds of live albums—the ones that aim to capture and preserve precise moments in music history and the ones that serve as social experiments for bands to reinterpret their works in patchwork collections of reinvention. Band of Horses’ Acoustic at the Ryman—the band’s newest album since 2012’s Mirage Rock—falls into the latter category. Recorded at Nashville’s beloved and historic Ryman Auditorium (where the Grand Ole Opry used to call home) during two nights last April, Band of Horses’ live acoustic LP highlights the group’s country influences.
With four critically lauded LPs behind them, Seattle’s Band Of Horses has punctuated its current between-albums break with this new acoustic collection. Recorded over two nights at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium in April 2013, the collection plays heavily on the band’s folk and country roots, eschewing the heavier stylings of 2012’s Mirage Rock. Despite being a live record, this is a hugely polished proposition.
Band of Horses seemed to be on the proper path, the one proven successful by so many artists before them: Release small, yet beloved album that attains cult status (Everything All the Time). Follow said album with a slightly more polished effort featuring a no-question-about-it lead single (Cease to Begin’s “Is There a Ghost”). Arena tours followed by stadium shows seemed bound to follow for Ben Bridwell and company, but something happened along the way that took them off-track.
The always haunting indie rock gone alt-country sounds of Band of Horses come under a microscope on the gentle ten-song collection Acoustic at the Ryman. Culled from entire sets recorded over a two-night stand at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium in the spring of 2013, the album boils down the performances into a compact presentation of their best moments. Glorious harmonies, acoustic piano, and twangy, woodsy guitars breathe new life into songs like "Older" and "No One's Gonna Love You." Though drummer Creighton Barrett is present for the dates, the drums are so understated (if played at all) that they fade into a far-off background, making more space for the lush tones of vocal and guitar interplay.
Band of Horses have always had a folkie core, but it's usually been hidden beneath layers of Nineties guitar noise on their four studio albums. Acoustic at the Ryman, recorded at the historic Nashville venue over two nights last April, replaces the fuzz with piano balladry and complex multipart harmonies. Frontman Ben Bridwell's vocals are perfectly suited to the change-up, as are most of the songs here.
Band of Horses have found themselves in a bit of a strange place. As their commercial success has increased their critical success has declined. Sub Pop releases Everything All of the Time and Cease to Begin contained some of the most beloved indie-folk songs of the 2000s, from “The Funeral” to “No One’s Gonna Love You”. Infinite Arms got a Grammy nod and Mirage Rock gave them a surprise hit in Europe but both albums left a good chunk of old fans feeling out in the cold.
When grunge champions Nirvana took to the stage in 1993 to record probably the most famous of all acoustic performances in New York City for MTV’s Unplugged series, the effect was stunning. The contrast with their electric guise was immense, like white against black, pushing the songs themselves to the forefront of the performance as they were laid bare before all. The effect, of course, is far less when Band Of Horses take to the stage for such shows.
Following on from their ambitious fourth album, 2012‘s Mirage Rock, Band Of Horses‘ latest release sees them scale their sound back and focus on the basics. Acoustic At The Ryman does exactly what it says on the tin, with 10 songs captured during a pair of acoustic shows at Nashville’s legendary Ryman Auditorium in April last year. Recorded using the high resolution Direct Stream Digital (DSD) format, it is important to point out just how good the LP sounds from start to finish.
Thanks to its venue, Acoustic at the Ryman can't be just a simple live album, as that storied concert hall in Nashville carries far too much cultural and historical baggage. Band of Horses played a two-night stand there in April 2013, and their decision to unplug their electric guitars in favor of acoustic suggests a knowledge of the venue's long life as the home of country music. It's certainly an impressive name on the album cover, and definitely the most compelling aspect of this pallid set.
A classic stripped-down record in the vein of Neil Young’s Live at Massey Hall 1971 or Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged in New York does feel like a conceit right up Band Of Horses’ street. Last year’s lavish Mirage Rock album -their fourth – was made in conjunction with veteran Eagles/The Who/Faces producer Glyn Johns and underpinned the group’s steady streamlining from plaid-clad, beardy indie-rock middleweights into aspiring 70s-flavoured AOR merchants. This career-spanning effort serves as the ideal vehicle for singer Ben Bridwell’s impressive vocal range.