Various Artists

Rare on Air, Vol. 2

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Considering the weighty fame of some of artists on this second volume of live sessions from L.A.'s KCRW's Morning Becomes Eclectic show, such as Joni Mitchell, the Cranberries, Jackson Browne, and Philip Glass, wouldn't you know it, it's Lou Barlow who makes off with this collection. After apologizing for a scratchy voice due to being a bad boy the previous night and not getting any sleep, the Sebadoh leader noiselessly reels off an absolute holy stunner in "Beautiful Friend" that could wake the dead the world over. A simple tale of a rekindled love conviction that cannot be denied or stopped, the breathless hush of it, and Barlow's aching, naked delivery catapult this quick couple of minutes into the haunting, timeless strata of a Hank Williams, Everly Brothers, or Ray Charles classic. Imagine Big Star's "Kangaroo" or "Holocaust" as straight-ahead folk tunes without the scary edges (but just as eerie). This cut tears something open inside of you, with some of the best chord changes heard all year. The best sessions here are all the ones like Barlow's, just the singer and an acoustic. Belly star Tanya Donelly delivers an almost-as-evocative "Sweet Ride" (a B-side of "Gepetto") in this quiet fashion, and the veteran Mitchell is her usual strong self alone on "Just Like This Train." Most of the other bands opt to go the "band-lite" unplugged way, with a drummer playing brushes and picked-at bass. Like most compilations, this skips around too much to satisfy anyone's taste completely, but most is pretty good, and that Barlow track is damn near essential.

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