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Monday, 17 February 2014 13:50

Album review: Band of Horses unplug and uncover some gems on 'Acoustic at the Ryman'

Album review: Band of Horses unplug and uncover some gems on 'Acoustic at the Ryman'
Written by Liz Schranck
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Band of Horses
"Acoustic at the Ryman"
Brown Records

The best part of Band of Horses' first concert album is the feeling that you're listening to these talented musicians perform their heartfelt tunes within the walls of your own home -- but with much better acoustics.

And that's as live as it gets.

As seen on the album cover, the tracks were recorded over two nights in April 2013 at the historic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, and features 10 songs from each of the band's four studio albums, rendered with just a few guitars, piano and bass. The harmonies are in the forefront and sound as polished and poignant as ever. The energy of the audience is electric, completely hushed throughout the set, excluding the roaring applause at the end of each song.

This pristine album was engineered in DSD (Direct-Stream Digital) format, which is fancy terminology for noise or distortion reduction. The result is an album that sounds just as high quality as any of BOH's studio releases, with the addition of an eager crowd drinking in every vocal and instrumental note.

The album begins with "Marry Song" off of 2007's "Cease to Begin." A fitting choice, the crowd agrees, as we hear lead singer Ben Bridwell's pitch-perfect voice and skillful guitar playing to begin the night. Bassist Bill Reynolds (who mixed the album) also delivers a flawless performance on the harmony vocal.

The stripped-down performances of these tunes are more striking than ever, as demonstrated in the next track, "Slow Cruel Hands of Time." Bridwell's lyrics feel sharper and more heart-breaking with solo instrumentation behind him. Not that the songs lacked emotion in their original form, but the live-room feel brings out his tone in a way we haven't heard it before.

The album really begins to settle in on the band's performance of "Detlef Schrempf," also off "Cease to Begin," with Bridwell's impassioned vocal and Ryan Monroe on piano. The lyrics "I can't look at you any other way" echo powerfully through the auditorium.

But the peak comes halfway through during Bridwell's solo performance of "No One's Gonna Love You." Likely the most emotional take on the album, the lamenting, finger-picked guitar, set against the echoed words of his repeated lyric "No one's gonna love you more than I do," is as visceral and heart-wrenching as ever. In that moment, you, the listener, are there.

Also on the album are fan favorites "Older" from the 2010 release "Infinite Arms" and "The Funeral" from the 2006 debut "Everything All the Time."

The set concludes with a candid performance of "Neighbors" sung by Bridwell, Reynolds and Monroe. It's like listening to Crosby, Stills and Nash; with the ever-steady three-party harmony and intermittent a cappella sections, it is a perfect finish to this fine addition to the Band of Horses catalog.

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