I pledge to not spend this entire review bemoaning my bad timing, missing out on the opportunity to purchase the limited edition CD of The Spring Standards' Live From Delaware and "settling" instead for the digital-only option.
I was introduced to this wonderful trio of James Cleare, Heather Robb, and James Smith on the social music site turntable.fm when someone played "Drowning in Sobriety," the bonus track from their sophomore effort Would Things Be Different. The perpetual wandering Fanboy in me is always looking for new music that excites and moves me and that song immediately grabbed hold of me and when I say immediately I mean I went to their web site and ordered Different and their debut No One Will Know within minutes. It was like at first listen, something that has only deepened once I acquired those records and their double EP yellow//gold.
I can describe the sound, apply labels, and make points of comparison but what makes this trio special isn't how many instruments these three can play or the way they merge influences and cross genres. The Spring Standards create heart songs: songs from their heart that have taken permanent residence in my own. I don't know if they've expanded mine or found a hole waiting to be filled but they are another voice in the ongoing, ever-expansive musical conversation that defines so much of my life and many of those songs can be experienced on this release.
Not everyone loves live albums like I do and Delaware seizes on many of the opportunities such a release provides, proving the band can take their songs from the studio to the stage, making me want to see a band for myself for the first time or igniting a desire to see them again. It also acts as a virtual "Best Of" playlist, the kind of sampler you'd use to introduce them to a friend.
Delaware draws heavily from yellow//gold while mixing in a few older songs and offering up one not yet on a record. Many of my favorites -- "Chicago," "Watch The Moon Disappear," "Nightmare" -- are present. That and my already deep affection for this band made the purchase a no-brainer and it does something else good live albums do: it caused me to reconsider songs I'd previously ignored or not connected with through the power of performance.
The yellow//gold track "Only Skin" possessed a lovely fragility and it is just as poignant live as it was on record. Robb sings of idiosyncrasies she hopes the lover she is leaving will remember when she's gone, perhaps the parts of her she never felt were accepted or understood in the first place, as she looks back with regret for the missed opportunity of the ended relationship.
"Chicago" isn't recreated with note-for-note precision but everything beautiful about it can be felt in this still-faithful arrangement. The lead vocal waivers and the instrumentation is adjusted for the stage but the melancholy sigh is just as affecting and the harmonies every bit as lovely.
"Watch The Moon Disappear" is still the best song Fleetwood Mac never wrote and could be a hit if it got the right kind of exposure. They play the hell out of it, injecting it with energy and precision. "Nightmare" doesn't have the same hit potential but is a great tune and every bit as good live as on record.
"Sharks" is a revelation as is "Premonition," a song that has been a staple of live shows but has yet to find its way onto an album. "Sharks" is one of those songs I liked but perhaps neglected on yellow//gold that makes more sense to me after hearing it played. "Premonition" gives this rootsy trio a chance to rock out a little. Think of it as their "True Love Waits," a song that demands to be heard but always feels like a bit of an outlier. It may not find a home on an album but makes complete sense on stage.
Live From Delaware gives us a taste of a night in the life with The Spring Standards and it does not disappoint. This is a great distillation of what they're all about, making it something special for those of us who already love them and a great starting point for someone just discovering them. I'm more determined than ever after listening to it to get myself to one of their shows and find a copy of the limited edition CD.