Sounds Like: The throwing of a gauntlet.

 Bartees Strange, aka Bartees Leon Cox, Jr., Released “Live Forever” in October 2020, while the world was still in the confusion of lockdown. It was a rush of an album, and I can only imagine the frustration he felt not being able to hit the road, to preform these songs for an audience.  One year later, finally able to tour, he celebrated the album’s anniversary by announcing this live and electrifying companion to “Live Forever.”

 Now, All of the eleven songs on “Live Forever” are performed here, albeit in a slightly scrambled order.  But let me be clear:  this is a different beast. First, the songs have even more urgency, if you can believe it. Those months of not being perform, all that pent up energy is finally unleashed. The one-two punch of “Mustang” and “Boomer” hit harder, the latter especially. “Stone Meadows,” which serves as the midpoint for both records, gets cranked up a couple of notches to really bring the house down.  

 What’s at play here is a change of atmosphere. “Live Forever” had a haze that floated through the album, serving as a unifying thread. It often impacted the vocals — creating space and distant between the listener. That sonic fog is removed here providing immediacy to his delivery.  This change give a jolt  to the more intimate songs. “Jealously” now feels like a lit fuse priming  “Mustang” to detonate. Elsewhere the staccato blasts in “Far” double in intensity, and the acoustic line in “Fallen For You” gains increased confidence and command, changing the song’s demeanor from one of lament to declaration.  The set closes with “Lemon World,” a cover of The National ’s song that was on his first EP.  It’s the exclamation point to the whole affair, showing that no matter the tune, it will become a formidable show stopper in the hands of Bartees Strange. The cover also ties together the record’s central thesis — that the combustive nature of Bartees Strange is no studio trickery, it flows from the man himself.

 I’ve been toying with doing these type of reviews for years now — this record was what pushed me over the edge. There is an electricity to music that only appears when performing in the moment, live or in front of audience. “Live @ Studio 4” is one of the best examples of it I’ve heard captured on a recording in a long, long time.

Check out “Live @ Studio 4” on the Bartees Strange Bandcamp Page. 

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