Colin Meloy: Sings Live! (Rough Trade)

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Colin Meloy: Devil's Elbow
Colin Meloy: Sings Live! (Rough Trade)

Something about a couple of these solo songs sounded oddly familiar and I suspect I may have seen this Portland-based singer-songwriter and mainman in the Decemberists at a songwriter night in the famous White Eagle Hotel in his hometome.

Or maybe it's just that these memorable, lyrically dense and chorus-fuelled songs were recorded live on a solo tour in 2006 and so have an immediacy and presence.

Meloy is a story-teller in song although the narrative is oblique and sometimes opaque, yet -- just as with REM and the Smiths for example -- you feel you are being told something, although it is often hard to get a handle on exactly what.

Beyond his own songs of dislocation and outsiders he weaves in snippets of REM (Seven Chinese Brothers), Anglo-folk singer Shirley Collins' version of Barbara Allen (whose work he did an EP of apparently and pays tribute to here), the Smiths, Fleetwood Mac and even a snippet of Pink Floyd.

These references illustrate the depth of the well he draws from.

But what will win you is the power of his voice, the strength of his tunes, and the personality which comes through in the songs, the aural references and the witty asides to the audiences.

He also plays the worst song he ever wrote ("bad to the core") and it is pretty awful. The Decemberists have won widespread critical acclaim on the strength of Meloy's songs and here a dozen or so are stripped bare for your enjoyment and allow you to further appreciate their emotional power.

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