Letdown at the Ryman
The live album provides the artist with a unique opportunity to reimagine old material, breathing new life into songs fans know and love. An acoustic album functions similarly, highlighting subtle nuances in an artist’s songwriting that may have been overlooked on a studio production. So one would think a live acoustic album would offer more than ample opportunity to explore new directions in familiar repertoire. Unfortunately, the only thing Band of Horses’ new live album “Acoustic at the Ryman” has to offer is wasted opportunity.
The album really should have been good. Recorded over two nights at the former home of the Grand Ole Opery in Nashville, the setlist featured is more a less a greatest hits spanning the band’s four studio albums. From old hits like “The Funeral” and “No One’s Gonna Love You” to “Slow Cruel Hands of Time” from 2012’s “Mirage Rock,” fans will appreciate the selection of tunes offered here. These songs could thrive in this environment, and almost seem built for it with their simple chord progressions and thick vocal harmony.
So what went wrong? Mainly, the band let the confines of the format limit instead of inspire, making most of the songs one dimensional versions of their former selves. “Detlef Schrempf” gives everything it has to offer within the first 30 seconds and then continues for another four minutes with no change in texture, dynamics or instrumentation. The band seems content to settle into one sound and ride it out for the length of every song, and the same could be said about the album as a whole.
The versions of the songs presented here pale in comparison to their studio counterparts, with nothing particularly special to offer. “The Funeral” suffers the most from this as a song that originally struck an interesting balance between a loud, driving sound and a quieter version of the same musical material. On “Acoustic at the Ryman” it just becomes a familiar melody over stagnant music, leaving you craving the crashing drums of the original.
“Wicked Gil” is one of the exceptions here, creating a vastly different feel from the studio recording but unfortunately going nowhere with it, opting instead to stick with one sound and one volume for it’s entirety. “Everything’s Gonna Be Undone” is a rare standout, providing a nice, upbeat change from the rest of the album. The harmonies are particularly satisfying here, as they are on most of the album, and there is a small dynamic change toward the end of the track that adds some interest.
The closing track “Neighbor” is the only other noteworthy track, finding three members of the band harmonizing around a single microphone and piano. Unlike the rest of the album, on this song the band creates dynamics by dropping the piano in parts, leaving the three voices in accompanied harmony. Unfortunately, for most of us this will be too little, too late. “Acoustic at the Ryman” is a release that won’t find much of an audience beyond Band of Horses fans, but that’s really who albums like this are for.
2 stars out of 5.
DOWNLOAD NOW: “Everything’s Gonna Be Undone.”