Joshua Burnside and Elmwood Hall take up the live album gauntlet

Live at the Elmwood HallReleasing a live album is dangerous territory for any musician. There are many potential outcomes, but three standout: something that reworks existing songs into gorgeous, emotional renditions that are particular to the day; something that really doesn't; and something that somewhat mundanely sits between the two. Where a recording falls tends to depend on the quality of the production, but it can also be foiled by something as simple as the musician's showmanship. It's not enough to just be a good musician with good songs.

...And so we approach any live album with caution, least of all something that's been produced by DrunkenWerewolf favourite Joshua Burnside. The Northern Irish artist has received countless accolades since the release of his debut album Ephrata, which made it to the top of our own list back in 2017. He's also embarked on a prolific songwriting career and has already followed up with two EPs (Holllllogram, All Round the Lights Said) as well as a re-imagining of his 2013 EP If You're Goin' That Way.

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His latest contribution Live at the Elmwood Hall cherry picks more recent songs and rounds them off with a previously unreleased track, "The Only Thing I Fear". Elmwood Hall is a venue in Burnside's hometown of Belfast; a converted church akin to Bristol's St George or London's Union Chapel. It's a blatant location to record a live album and with his modern take on folk music from across the world, Burnside is an obvious candidate.

Is it enough to be an excellent musician with excellent songs? It certainly sets Burnside up for victory; the skill of the musicians playing is undeniable, the vocals are robust, and the songs are integrally beautiful. "The Only Thing I Fear" is a standout thanks to a charge of electricity, but that's sadly lacking elsewhere. In fact, there are a number of issues that prevent Live at the Elmwood Hall from achieving top rank...

For a live album to succeed, it has to be spectacular. This isn't spectacular. The sound isn't as solid as it could be which lends a bootleg feel to all 9 tracks, but especially "Holllllogram". Most of all the delivery is paint by numbers; the unfortunate downside of good musicianship is a lack in variation and that's essential if you want to wow existing fans. Live at the Elmwood Hall is more like a hits compilation recorded in a dodgy studio.

It pains us to write something even remotely negative, because we're quite sure Burnside deserves better. It's also important to stress getting a live album right is a very hard, and maybe not something to tackle until you're a good 10 years into your career. It's likely Live at the Elmwood Hall will be bettered in the future, and for now at least, it's not going to lose him any fans. It just won't win any, either.

Release: 24th May 2019, Quiet Arch Records
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