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Album Review: The Decemberists “We All Raise Our Voices to the Air (Live Songs 04.11-08.11)”

I ought to start with this: I’m not a fan of live records in general. In most cases, the audio is not as good on live versions as it is in the studio versions, and some labels use live records as a relatively cheap shortcut to eke a bit more cash out of old songs, instead of giving the fans new music to love.

But in the case of The Decemberists’ latest release We All Raise Our Voices to the Air (Live Songs 04.11-08.11), I’m willing to forgive the transgression, for a variety of reasons. First of all—The Decemberists have established a solid reputation as a great live band, and this record does an awesome job of capturing that dynamic.  Second—with the band reportedly preparing to take a much-needed hiatus, it’s fitting that they should release a decent compilation from their live shows as a sort of good-bye wave.

And third—the record is just plain well done. Pure and simple.

As the (long) title suggests, We All Raise Our Voices… is a collection of performances taken from 12 different live shows over last spring and summer. However, the album is masterfully mixed so that the 2-CD collection plays as though it is all one show. You might know mentally that different songs were performed in different venues, but you can’t really tell the difference audio-wise—a fairly good feat, considering the unpredictability of live recording. Understandably, the track list draws heavily from last year’s The King Is Dead, the band’s latest studio release (and best-selling to date). Among the record’s 20 tracks (three of which exceed the 10-minute mark), high points include the band’s recent Grammy-nominated hit “Down By the Water,” “Calamity Song,” and the band’s signature audience-participation song “The Mariner’s Revenge Song,” in which frontman Colin Meloy demonstrates his masterful ability to interact with the crowd. And fans will also appreciate all three parts of “The Crane Wife” played in order on the album’s longest track (clocking in at just over 16 minutes).

While The Decemberists have enjoyed an amazing amount of success over the past couple of years, it has also been a roller-coaster ride for them, especially with the diagnosis of breast cancer in bandmate Jenny Conlee (which is now reportedly in remission). Their upcoming hiatus is well-deserved, and We All Raise Our Voices… serves as a very appropriate coda for this season of The Decemberists’ career. Not to mention that it’s an awesome tip of the hat to the fans.

Yes, even though it’s a live record.


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About the Author

on MUSIC IS MY OXYGEN WEEKLY.

Tim Ferrar's interest in pop and rock started as a child, listening to Top-40 radio for hours on end while playing air guitar in his bedroom. Eventually air guitar led to electric guitar, and Tim began playing in bands and writing his own songs. With an admitted weakness for "a great hook or a great guitar riff," Tim's musical tastes are broad and varied, ranging from Michael Jackson and Lady Gaga on the pop side to Bon Jovi and Foo Fighters on the rock side- making him the ideal guy to cover our Rock and Pop categories. By day, Tim is a mild-mannered accountant in Chicago. By night, he rocks out on electric guitar in a cover band in various clubs around town- much to the surprise of some of his clients.

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