Sunday, March 22, 2015

Encapsulate It All: Live In Leuven 12/10/10 Is Enough To Reinvigorate A Love For Heather Nova!

The Good: Wonderful primary and backing vocals! Great lyrics, Duration
The Bad: Live conceits (crowd noises), One or two interstitials, Less successful musical experiment
The Basics: Live In Leuven 12/10/10 spans virtually the entire musical career of Heather Nova (so far) and manages to make even her most overplayed works seem new again!

It takes a pretty incredible musical artist to make live albums that are so vastly different that in reviewing one, I would comment "enough already" on some of the artist's most oft-played tracks and then on the very next album, I would praise how she has reinvented the track. And yet, Heather Nova is just such a talented musical artist. Nova is the latest musical artist to get on the bandwagon with bootlegging her own concert recordings (something which the digital music revolution has truly made easier) and she has been providing those recordings to fans as a way of generating capital for her forthcoming album, The Way It Feels. As a donor for The Way It Feels, one of the live performances I purchased directly from Heather Nova via PledgeMusic is Live In Leuven 12/10/10.

After listening to the other acoustic set Nova sold to generate funds, Live In Cologne 2/26/2014 (reviewed here!) and Live In Eindhoven 2011 (reviewed here!), the album Heather Nova gave fans as a "thank you" for the delay in the release of The Way It Feels, the real surprise of Live In Leuven 12/10/10 is that she still has enough material to make it worth the listener's while. Live In Leuven 12/10/10 is a virtual "Best Of" Heather Nova in that it impressively spans the musical career of Heather Nova in such a way that it includes songs from her first full album, Glowstars and teases 300 Days At Sea. Impressively, Live In Leuven 12/10/10 includes some of the cover songs and collaborations for which Heather Nova is known, most notably "Someone New" and "Like A Hurricane."

With an hour and forty-one minutes of music, comprised of twenty-one tracks (twenty-two songs, in reality), Live In Leuven 12/10/10 might be the most original concert recording of Heather Nova's career. The concert might be over four years old, but the presentation of it seems to promise listeners that a live performance by Heather Nova could include virtually any of her songs. Nova provides all of the lead vocals and plays guitar on the album as well. One assumes that, given how she is privately releasing it, that Nova was integral to the production process as well. Outside "Gloomy Sunday" and "Like A Hurricane," Nova wrote or co-wrote all of the songs.

So very many years after Glowstars, the fact that "All The Way" is added to "Gloomy Sunday" as a coda/hidden track is fun and it gives Live In Leuven 12/10/10 the feeling that anything is musically possible for a Heather Nova performance. Nova makes good on that promise as she presents an eclectic mix of her classic and contemporary works. "Everything Changes" immediately precedes "Sugar;" "I Miss My Sky" leads into a surprisingly powerful rendition of "Heart And Shoulder" (a song I thought I was sick of, but turns out Heather Nova can still present in a way that is instantly intriguing to the ear!).

The mix and arrangement are not flawless - the experimental version of "Aquamarine" that Nova does on Live In Leuven 12/10/10 does not quite land - but Heather Nova makes the concert work well as an album. Perhaps the biggest surprise for me, in terms of arrangement, was that Nova includes "Fool For You" and "Doubled Up" (two songs that closed prior studio albums) in the middle. Usually, the climactic, melancholy, sound of the two tracks is incongruent for middle of the album tracks, but inexplicably, Nova makes them work as centerpieces onLive In Leuven 12/10/10.

Perhaps the reason Live In Leuven 12/10/10 works so well is the instrumental diversity on the album. For an acoustic album, Live In Leuven 12/10/10 makes wonderful use of strings ("Maybe Tomorrow" has a haunting accompaniment by violin or cello) and frequent use of keyboards. That makes the album sound more energized than many live albums and Nova gives it her all vocally and instrumental. The result is an album where songs like "Walk This World" appear and have more of a percussion-driven sound than they do on the studio (or other live) versions of the the song!

Live In Leuven 12/10/10 has Heather Nova leading her talented back-up artists. While she is accompanied by acts she is familiar with, none of them outshine her. The male backing vocals play well on "Walk This World" and "Fool For You." Interestingly, Nova includes a moment when her voice cracks and the very awkward beginning to attempting to play the remixed version of "Aquamarine." That lends a feeling of authenticity and immediacy to Live In Leuven 12/10/10. But the flubs are definitely the exception to the rule on Live In Leuven 12/10/10; most of the album has Nova presenting her songs (and the covers) in a beautiful soprano voice that is absolutely angelic!

The other pleasant aspect of Live In Leuven 12/10/10 is the inclusion of a few decent interstitials. Between a few songs, Nova talks about her songs and finally hearing some backstory for "London Rain" is pretty awesome. The ultimate result is an incredible sampler that is enough to tease newbies with so much of the lyrical and vocal quality of Heather Nova to make them want to hear more and enough of a reward fans of Heather Nova to be patient for the impending, if delayed, release of her next album.

The best track on the album is “Talk To Me” and the weak track is "Aquamarine."

For other Heather Nova album reviews, please be sure to check out:
These Walls
Live From The Milky Way
The Jasmine Flower
300 Days At Sea


For other music reviews, please check out my Music Review Index Page for a comprehensive listing!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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