Album Review | First Take Records | Review by Paul Jackson | Stars: 4/5
It used to be that the ‘Live’ album along with the ‘Best Of’, ‘Covers’ and ‘B Side’ releases were routine, cheap fillers to capitalise on commercial success. These days, for the jobbing musician who gets the bulk of their income from regular touring, selling CDs at gigs can also be a financially worthwhile asset. It seems logical, therefore, to put out releases between ‘proper’ albums that serve all of the above in being relatively cheap to produce, are a product that keeps the attention of interested parties and, if possible, shows a different side of the act in question. At 23, Luke is now three full and one mini album into his career and given he tours almost continuously, a live album has been on the cards for some time. As Luke plays in several different guises, solo, as a duo with bassist Andy Sharps, or as a trio with Andy and Connor Downs on drums, he factored in the novel idea of capturing each of these identities in a single show. Once this premise was established, the rest was straightforward. That is, plenty of rehearsing, the finding of a venue and an enthusiastic audience. On the technical front, live and recorded sound was organised by Dan Lucas, a sound engineer and producer who has worked with Luke on his last two releases. They mixed the tracks between them, cut the twenty songs from the night down to fifteen and finally, Denis Blackham at Skye Mastering did the mastering duties for the finished product. Obviously, any live album is only going to be as good as the performance itself and the extent to which this is authentically captured, particularly given there is only one go at it! Luckily, the sound quality here is exceptional and in my view, the best recording yet of Luke’s vocals. A few years ago, a reasonable criticism might have been that his voice was better than his ability to harness it. However, over the past two or three years in particular there is a sense of him having grown into it and the immediacy of this recording captures a vocal power, range and sensitivity that is completely in service of the song. The album rolls along very naturally, as it did on the night, with the musical intensity building through the solo and duo parts to the six-song trio finale. Another nod to the recording quality here as the supple musicality of Andy Sharps’ bass and percussive thump of Connor Down’s drums form the bedrock of a truly thunderous Trio sound. As is the norm with live albums, over the 15 tracks, there are sprinklings of updated older pieces, core set songs and some previously unreleased numbers, so everyone is going to have their personal favourites. For me, these are many. There is a wistful revisit of “More Than Boys”, the title track from Luke’s first album back in 2012. The intervening years have moved it from a then seventeen year olds ‘rites of passage’ observation into something altogether more adult and reflective. “Last Train”, from the same album and the tale of a soldier returning from war to bring news of the loss of a friend to his family, is a marvellously understated performance that perfectly suits the lyrical gravity of the song. There is also something immensely moving about the crowd singing along as it segues into a passage from Bob Dylan’s “Blowing in the Wind. It still surprises me that such a powerful, timeless song is yet to be snapped up by some folk luminary and I can just imagine a version given the Fairport Convention treatment. In the duo section, “Father’s Footsteps” from 2014’s Fumes and Faith gets a major makeover from its original breakneck swagger to an Americana type groove. It’s propelled by the meatiest of bass lines from Andy Sharps and features some faultless ‘old timey’ style harmonies that bring an ageless feel to the proceedings. Then there is the previously unreleased “Made of Stone” in which the Trio move between pop, rock and yearning soul in a shade over four minutes of music. It’s another of those songs that defies categorisation, which is an undoubted strength of Luke’s as his influences are just absorbed without any obvious reference points, but perhaps also a bit of a drawback when the Radio 2 Folk Show are compiling their Playlist!! “Sister”, again from Fumes and Faith is full of ghostly mythology, from the stark opening of Luke’s guitar and vocal all the way through to its denouement. Concluding proceedings both on the night and CD, is the now staple live show closer “The Road” from 2016’s Tall Tales and Rumours and is another whistle stop tour through modern country, roots and soul, culminating in an infectious crowd sing-along. All in all a very fine album indeed, showcasing some great song writing, a marvellous voice and the tightest of playing. Solo:Duo:Trio does exactly what it says on the tin and is the perfect introduction to Luke in all his forms, and just has to be the next best thing to having been there.