Colin Meloy Sings Live!
Kill Rock Stars
It's amazing how much The Decemberists and the rest of the indie folk crew -- Sufjan Stevens, Iron & Wine, Cat Power, etc. -- have blown up over the last couple of years. These acts have had their moments of glory in their back catalogs, but on their trajectories from obscurity to national consciousness, the relentless hype machine is a little wearying. What I want is little more than a casual relationship with these acts, but everyone's still telling me this is the best music ever.
One of the results of newfound popularity, as always, is the release of a number of cashing-in records, and this lot is no exception (Sufjan's Avalanche, anyone?). Colin Meloy Sings Live! is similarly redundant, although in a different direction. The disc offers solo interpretations of The Decemberists' hits alongside covers and playful banter culled from an acoustic tour in 2006. To be sure, Meloy is the band's brightest star, but The Decemberists' true strength comes from its orchestration (the baroque musical accompaniment to Meloy's theatrical lyrics). With just an acoustic guitar to carry these mini-epics, they don't elicit the same response as the studio versions. Particularly suffering are the usually stellar "Here I Dreamt I Was an Architect" and "We Both Go Down Together." Where there should be soaring grandeur, there's only a simple strum.
It's not a complete wash, though. Meloy's version of "Barbra Allen" is a fine example of traditional folk and "Red Right Ankle" is very close to the album's bare-bones arrangement. Perhaps the best aspect of Meloy as a performer to surface on this disc is his between-song comments. He's witty, erudite, and self-effacing. The latter shows through particularly well on his intro to "Dracula's Daughter," a song he readily admits is "the worst thing he's ever written," and he's right. While none of the positives are enough to recommend buying this CD, on the off chance you're one of the people who hasn't picked up The Decemberists' superior studio LPs, let me steer you unerringly in their direction.