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Mercury Retrograde CD
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Jesse Malin has stripped everything down for his first proper live album, recorded last Christmas in New York. Fan or not, you'd have to be made of stone not to feel the hairs on the back of your neck picking up as the audience whoops on the intro to this disc.
This is Malin's shot at recapturing his early days before the live touring band. Just him and the guitar for the most part, plus a few unobtrusive extras - like beautiful, crisp, haunting piano on Cigarettes & Violets and Since You're In Love and pure violin perfection on Aftermath.
One of the biggest highlights isn't even the songs - it's the banter that accompanies them. Malin says he started 'doing bits' to kill time while he was tuning his guitar on solo tours. Over time they've evolved from shooting the breeze to little intros to each piece.
Some are short, others ramble - like the story that accompanies Hotel Colombia, a witty, acerbic insight into Malin's view of touring. Intros to Cigarettes & Violets and Going Out West are almost the bones of a stand-up routine. Long or short, each adds that little bonus to the song.
Malin's music isn't groundbreaking - feeling in parts like a pair of well-worn slippers. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery - well then the Eagles should be chuffed with Hotel Colombia and Aftermath, while Subway owes more than a passing nod to a certain Mrs Robinson.
This album is Malin's propaganda for going to live shows - rather than watching them online, which he takes a poke at a couple of times. It certainly captures something over and above watching an internet playback, and the UK release sees a bonus five stylish studio tracks - highlights are the swaggering Leaving Babylon and a cute cover of Fairytale Of New York.
The gorgeous intimacy of this album compensates for the sometimes shaky vocal tuning - inevitable on a live recording. Malin's career is yet to really take off in the UK as it's done in the States, but with the beautiful production here (and maybe some much-maligned online support), this could be the album that makes him this side of the pond. --Sophie Bruce
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