Colin Meloy - Colin Meloy Sings Live!

Mike Mantin 05/04/2008

Rating: 4/5

Colin Meloy's band, The Decemberists, have been getting progressively progressive recently. Their ambitious plans culminated in 2006's 'The Crane Wife', a grand concept album featuring two 10-minute epics. So anyone who misses the days of gently strummed ballads about pirates and gypsies will enjoy 'Colin Meloy Sings Live!', which finds the singer alone, with only his guitar and an incredible back catalogue as accompaniment. The album is a compilation of recordings from his tours of America (lucky bastards), mostly drawn from the quieter moments of The Decemberists' back catalogue. There's also a selection from his covers EP 'Colin Meloy Sings Shirley Collins', one from from his old college alt-country band Tarkio (opener 'Devil's Elbow') and a couple of wonderful covers snuck in between songs (but I won't ruin the surprise for you).

So far, it all sounds very fans-only. But '...Sings Live!' is the sound of a gifted songwriter stripping down his best work, and will appeal to anyone who's got a soft spot for charming acoustic troubadours. And it achieves its main purpose as a live album: to make you feel like, and wish, you're there. Meloy compares the show to a campfire singalong, which sums up the album's atmosphere nicely. Album tracks like 'Red Right Ankle' and the disturbing sea shanty 'A Cautionary Tale' become gloriously imtimate, and there's a silence all through the beautiful 'The Engine Driver' until the end, when the crowd gently sing the backing vocals. You're not even there, but it's one of those perfect gig moments.

As anyone who's been to a Decemberists show will tell you, Meloy is a born showman. Three tracks here are taken up by amusing stage banter (though was it really necessary to include descriptions of his fluffy mascots when we can't see them?) and there's plenty of pantomime-esque drawn-out endings. He even includes "the worst song I've ever written", 'Dracula's Daughter', though this will probably end up getting skipped after the initial novelty. But mainly, this is a solid album, a great opportunity for fans hear stripped-down takes on the classics and some great rare stuff (like the incredibly sweet 'Wonder'). But the strength of Meloy's songwriting and charisma make sure anyone can fall in love with it.