Friday, March 8, 2013

Unimpressive Live - Sarah McLachlan's Lesser Live EP

The Good: Nice booklet, Moments of voice, Some of the lyrics
The Bad: Not the most impressive vocal performance, Short, Very limited in scope and sound
The Basics: As someone who appreciates the works of Sarah McLachlan, this limited edition c.d. is a real let down and not worth the effort to track down.

As a collector, I am always interested when something is released that is limited edition, especially when it actually stays that way. I came across Sarah McLachlan's 1992 limited edition c.d. simply entitled Live and was surprised to find that the 250,000 copies made were the only ones that were made. Period. I almost felt honored putting the disc in my player.

With seven live tracks spanning 32 and a half minutes, Live is a real let down. McLachlan has had trouble impressing me with her live albums before; Mirrorball was a razor decision that turned on her version of the song Possession that sold the album. Live does not have any such luck. There are no tracks on here that are unique to this disc, none that are dramatic reinterpretations of prior works and none that illustrate anything extraordinary about Sarah McLachlan as a singer-songwriter. The performance (this was recorded at Harbourfront, Toronto in September of 1992) might have been intriguing or impressive, but whatever energy the actual show carried, it does not translate well to the disc.

Of the seven songs, six come from Solace, one from McLachlan's debut, Touch. This disc is not a ringing endorsement for either of those discs, nor a flattering advertisement for them or Sarah McLachlan. Opening with the usual pretentious concert noises that accompany most live albums, Live presents "Drawn To The Rhythm," one of McLachlan's standards. Having heard McLachlan live at a concert, it's interesting to note that there is very little differentiation between her performance of "Drawn To The Rhythm" live on this disc and in person. She does not alter the lyrics or add any sort of audibly recognizable "performance" to the track.

Her standard is followed by the uninspired performance of "Back Door Man," then "Home." While both of these tracks feature Sarah McLachlan's trademark "woman at the piano" sound, the vocals are very flat on this recording. They lack the emotion, the passion of Sarah McLachlan and the songs without her zest causes them to simply fall flat. In short, there's nothing extraordinary about her performances that open this disc.

McLachlan's voice comes to its most beautiful on "Lost." As McLachlan perfectly hits the higher registers while singing "Lost in the darkness of a land / Where all the hope that's offered is / Memories of being taken by the hand / And we are led into the sun." Here is a track where McLachlan's vocals are what we hope they would be, what allows us to call her a vocally impressive artist. This is the track that defines the loneliness her voice is able to create and captive her audience with.

Unfortunately, it peaks there, at track four. "I Will Not Forget You" is less clear and articulate, so McLachlan's singing becomes a plaintive wail. Similarly, the live versions of "Black" and "Ben's Song" are less emotionally expressive than they are sloppy. Her high notes on "Black" are shrill and troublesome, more than musical. These live versions do not add anything to the songs and, in fact, seem to capture performances that are mediocre at best.

Sarah McLachlan is an accomplished artist; she wrote or co-wrote all seven tracks on Live. Usually, her vocals are flawless, expressive and angelic, but not on this disc. She is an excellent musician, as well, playing her piano throughout this album, but here again the performances are nothing we haven't already heard from her studio albums. And closing tracks like "I Will Not Forget You" with the canned audience reaction just feels cheap here.

The nicest aspect of Live, and I do try to give credit where credit is due, is the booklet. The booklet that usually has the lyrics for the c.d. here has a mini-biography of Sarah McLachlan and the musicians who toured with her at the performances that made this disc. That's classy. It is printed on nice paper, has decent photographs and the biographies give a decent thumbnail history and it is very cool that she spotlights her accompanists.

But, when the superlative aspect of a limited edition disc are the liner notes, one knows they are in trouble. Live deserved to be limited edition, just to keep this low-quality pressing from turning too many people off of Sarah McLachlan and her works. A better live endeavor would be her Mirrorball c.d. As for this, it's impossible to recommend, even to the fans.

For other Sarah McLachlan reviews, check out my reviews of:
Fumbling Towards Ecstasy
Rarities, B-Sides & Other Stuff
Closer: The Best Of Sarah McLachlan
Laws Of Illusion


For other music reviews, please visit my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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