Live albums are tricky in many ways. Firstly, they’re tricky to do well: their purpose is essentially to capture a performance that was as much experienced through eyes as through ears, and make it almost as satisfying as a solely aural experience. It’s essentially the artist saying, “If you went, you can attempt to relive it through this. If you didn’t, here’s the next best thing, kind of.” Secondly, they’re tricky to review. You’re not so much reviewing the songs themselves but rather how they sound in this context, venue, arrangement etc. It needs to flow well, as any great live set should, but you have to take into account that this isn’t an ‘album’ album but more a collection of songs that have hopefully been ordered in the most flattering light.
The venue in this instance is London’s gorgeous Union Chapel. Filling its warm, inviting walls is Elisabeth Corrin Mauras, otherwise known as Lissie. The singer-songwriter from Rock Island, Illinois has been putting out steady releases since 2009 and before then she was opening up on tour for Lenny Kravitz. This live release sees her armed with just an acoustic guitar and gives her the chance to breath some new life into songs which here are freed of the sheen production that have placed them firmly in the Pop tent over at Camp Country/Folk/Rock; think ‘Fearless’ Taylor Swift-era but more credible (I still love it) and you’re pretty much there.
The bare bones arrangements put all of these songs on the spot; the entire content has been packed into just harmony and melody and there is little margin for error performance-wise. This is handled beautifully throughout, with one particular highlight being ‘Don’t You Give Up On Me’: the original is held down by a steady kick drum and smothered with dense vocal harmonies. Here, Lissie has to cover all bases herself, and does so in spectacular form: her voice soars over the top of the solitary, grounded acoustic guitar and arguably creates a more powerful version due to its nakedness and exposed lyrics. 2010 hit ‘When I’m Alone’ is transformed with its new seductive, Winehouse-esque verses, before hitting some stunning top notes that reveal Lissie’s raw talent.
Being in the middle of a huge Joni Mitchell obsession, I was sceptical when I saw a cover of ‘River’ on the track listing. I needn’t have feared: it is truly gorgeous and, like the original, knows exactly when to hold back and when to let go. The piano accompaniment also provides a nice break from the acoustic guitar set up.
Spanning thirteen songs with very little to no change in musical arrangement, this live show does a solid job of keeping the listener’s ear engaged throughout. For existing fans, this album provides the chance to relish in new (and equally great) versions of these songs. To anyone unfamiliar, this listen will introduce them to thirteen solid examples of simple, powerful songwriting. Personally, if this was the only format I ever heard these songs in, I wouldn’t feel at all cheated.
‘Live at Union Chapel’ is out Friday 25th November through Cooking Vinyl. Purchase or stream the album here.
To keep updated, head to Lissie’s Website.