Music Reviews
Acoustic At The Ryman

Band Of Horses Acoustic At The Ryman

(Kobalt) Rating - 6/10

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.

The band’s studio output, which began in 2005 with the Tour EP before four albums followed, is already in a toned down state when compared to the high octane energy captured on a Nirvana record. It is ultimately this lack of stunning variation that renders Live At The Ryman a rather indifferent release, being rather like a Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young effort but without such a wealth of hits at their disposal.

Captured over two nights in April 2013 at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee, the quality of the recording is exceptional. Made in DSD format, the band stated via their website that this was to ‘capture the magic of an unforgettable performance in dangerously pristine quality’. The album opens with Marry Song from the band’s second long player, 2007’s Cease To Begin, and the instantly recognisable descending piano arpeggio introduces a gorgeous rendition of an old favourite, as gentle acoustic pluckings marry with piano and familiar vocals.

Totalling ten tracks in all, the setlist is divided fairly evenly between all four albums, with Cease To Begin and most recent effort Mirage Rock from 2012 forming the basis of the first half of the album. With seated audience and musicians alike, the intimacy of the gig is almost tangible, and the gentle Slow Cruel Hands Of Time represents the first Mirage Rock track, a holding hands moment for the romantics amongst the crowd.

Detlef Schrempf - the ‘working title’ that Bridwell gave to a song which then apparently stuck (the working title just so happening to be the name of a famous basketball player) - follows and is another beautiful rendition of an already beautiful song, with its Jealous Guy like beginnings introducing the track. But a pattern is already emerging: the musicianship and vocals are faultless, and the sound is immaculate - but it’s not going to pull in new fans. Even then, it’s likely to be confined to the shelves after a few plays with the original recordings being preferred, the fresh versions representing little more than a pleasant variation.

No One’s Gonna Love You is another heartwarming moment, Bridwell taking a break from piano duties, being accompanied by a single acoustic guitar. The Grammy nominated Infinite Arms is represented by three songs in the second half: Factory, Older and Neighbor, with the last of these closing the album, its a capella sections drawing whoops of delight from the crowd.

Debut album Everything All The Time provides two songs - Wicked Gil and The Funeral, and it is no surprise to see the latter stealing the show. The biggest song the band has released would undoubtedly shine in any environment but with cello, haunting piano and pure emotion flowing, the hairs on the back of your neck are in for a treat.

Bridwell and co are still currently touring, performing special acoustic performances sporadically until they complete the tour back at the Ryman. But for those fans unable to acquire a ticket, this finely recorded set of songs makes for an ample substitute. For non fans however, this is unlikely to thrill.