Although known for years as one of Australia's best folk-pop bands around, the Waifs slowly but surely made inroads in North America with albums such as Sink or Swim and Up All Night. This two-disc collection of live performances, A Brief History, shows the band at the top of their game while liberally choosing tracks from all their albums. Kicking things off is the swinging, jazzy crowd pleaser "Lighthouse" that is hard not to replay often. This swinging nature is revisited with Josh Cunningham sharing vocals on "Love Serenade." Recorded throughout Australia over a period of three years, the group veers from pop to folk to Americana easily with the strong "London Still" featuring harmonies from sisters Vikki Simpson and Donna Simpson. Yet the pop element is still present for the bouncy, roots-riddled "Take It In" that has the audience singing along. The same can be said for the toe-tapping and engaging "Lies." Knowing a melody or hook, gems such as "The Waitress," with its concluding Mexican flair, shine instantly. The alt country or rootsy nature the band has moved towards in later albums is quite audible in the somewhat bluesy folk of "Fisherman's Daughter," which brings to mind Lucinda Williams while "Crazy Train" has an excellent harmonica solo early on. The Waifs slow things down somewhat for "Haircut," which is a pretty yet dark ballad, while "Gillian" is a gentle, warm, folksy tale. Perhaps the biggest asset is how the two discs are equally, consistently strong, whether it is the sultry, sexy "Willow Tree" or the mid-tempo, breezy "When I Die" that shows off the sisters' great harmonies. Perhaps the best of the lot comes through during the tender, retrospective "Sunflower Man" and also the hushed, whispered "Spotlight." And the Americana nature of this Aussie group comes through predominantly on disc two, especially with "Highway One" and the live version of "Bridal Train" (a studio version is also included). The home stretch is of the slower, singer/songwriter style, particularly during "Here If You Want," even with Cunningham's cell phone ringing near its conclusion. The only poppy tunes are "Company" and "Shelter Me" that falls in line with songs on the first disc. Regardless, it's a fantastic collection from a band with what will hopefully become a much longer history.
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AllMusic Review by Jason MacNeil
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2