A1 Minor Place
A2 Love Comes To Me
A3 Bed Is For Sleeping
A4 Arise Therefore
A5 Wolf Among Wolves
B1 Ain't You Wealthy? Ain't You Wise?
B2 Cursed Sleep
B3 Molly Bawn
C1 Birch Ballad
C2 New Partner
C3 Is It The Sea?
D1 My Home Is The Sea
D2 Master And Everyone
D3 I See A Darkness
D4 Love In The Hot Afternoon
I'm not sure why a two-year-old gig is getting released now, maybe it's to do with licensing the recordings. I recall the BBC broadcasting a large chunk of the show, and dutifully tuning in to hear it, but I forget which radio station it was on.
I'm also at a loss to explain why two tracks are hidden at the end (D3 and D4 are not listed on the sleeve). The record actually stops playing on a silent locked-groove halfway through side D, and you need to lift it up to start the encore. It's a nice touch, and I understand it highlights the bonus feel of encore tunes at a live gig, but it simply reinforces the artifice to me. I initially thought, 'nice touch', but now I wonder why Gene Watson doesn't get a credit for Love In The Hot Afternoon. And I wonder further why the three tracks that Bonnie started the show with, solo, are excluded here. Maybe I need to wind back the A-side and the needle will skip to a hidden dimension on the record, where I Am A Cinematographer will kick in.
Enough of my complaining, it's a confusing world sometimes, but I knew this release would be a good one, as I was actually at the gig, and it was great.
There's a wide range of the Oldham back catalogue: from Palace-era Arise Therefore (Arise Therefore); Viva Last Blues (New Partner) to Bonnie-era I See A Darkness (Minor Place, I See A Darkness); Master & Everyone (Wolf Among Wolves, Ain't You Wealthy..., Master & Everyone); Superwolf (Bed Is For Sleeping, My Home Is The Sea, Birch Ballad [a B-side to I Gave You]); and the then unreleased The Letting Go (Love Comes To Me, Cursed Sleep).
The principal point of interest for the fan who was not at the gig will be the manner in which these songs are reinterpreted with new musicians. Arguably, this is always the point of going to see Will Oldham live, as he rarely has the same touring band each time (drummer Alex Neilson has been around for a wee while though, appearing also on Wilding In The West and the Bonny Tour 7"), and occasionally the point of buying his records - there have been three live albums in recent years, and the Greatest Palace Music project, but also an average of one studio album of new material each year.
Realistically, it doesn't take much imagining to wonder what Will Oldham songs sound like accompanied by the fiddle, banjo, flute, box, melodica and voices of Sarah McFadyen, Nuala Kennedy, Eilidh Shaw and Inge Thompson. (Ross Thompson adds some guitar, but no voice, Alex adds some voice with his drums). Minor Place, despite Will fluffing the opening verse, sounds filled-out but authentic and recognisable. The box adds celtic spruce to Love Comes To Me, the extra vocal harmonies really working well. Bed Is For Sleeping is turned into a slow number for the end of a ceilidh.
Will introduces Arise Therefore as a song about, "not counting your gospels before they're hatched... Judas knows what we're talking about... he's up there laughing, rubbing his belly... I think... his two big balls... cos that's what you do in heaven". The track is as dark and brooding as the original, whilst having completely different instrumentation. It's about this point that I noticed that the drumming was essentially the same on each track thus far.
Wolf Among Wolves slows things right down, a very different rendering of this song, except the chorus, which is the only recognisable part otherwise.
And as for the first side, much so for the rest. Good songs, well performed, with a celtic feel. Cursed Sleep deserves special mention, for its droning ghostly intro. Birch Ballad is made more rousing and interesting that in the original. New Partner is almost unchanged, but such a lovely song, why would you? My Home Is The Sea is similarly a great tune, but the fiddles playing Matt Sweeney's guitar riffs sound a little forced, but the repetition of the line "I am under your spell" by the female vocalists makes up for it. I See A Darkness, from the encore, seems perfunctory.
Tracks not from the Oldham back catalogue - Molly Bawn, a traditional ballad; Is It The Sea?, written by Inge Thompson; and the aforementioned Gene Watson cover version.
Before Molly Bawn you get to hear how Will deals will hecklers. Someone shouts a song name, and he responds, "Close! Different time, different place... different song actually, but close. [Another shout] Closer, chord progression-wise... but still, different time different place different song." What follows is a wonderful version of this traditional song, which it would be fair to say Will Oldham makes his own.
The title track's lyrics are below:
The first light's kissed my eyes--it's time to breathe
The shearing wind that strips the flesh from me
So grab your weathered skins and boots and go
Is it the Hell I fear, is it the sea?
The working world's asleep an hour or more
The barman of 'The Anchor' calls the score
Jock sings a sea-song - chills me to the core:
"Drink up as it's time to lock the door!"
Well, fifteen years have passed, I'm still aboard
I crave the chaos of my family.
All I think of is a world ashore...
Is it life I abhor? Is it the sea?
The pain is duller, now a generation by.
Music fills my bones again at last
A pride inflates my chest, a tear swells to my eye
to hear my children's children cry
It is performed principally with Will's voice over the slow melodica, with some harmonising and is very good indeed. Both tracks make the album a worthwhile purchase.