Live in Italy

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Despite this album's title, it was actually recorded all across Europe and the United Kingdom, in Pordenone, Rome, Ancona, Amsterdam, Vienna and the Cranes' home base of Portsmouth during their 2002 tour. Live albums usually disappoint for one of two reasons: either the band sounds nothing like it does in the studio (rich production is replaced by thin live arrangements and dodgier singing) or the band sounds exactly like it does in the studio, making you wonder why you spent the fifteen bucks on an album that sounds just like all the other ones you've already spent fifteen bucks on. Fans of the Cranes, though, should be perfectly happy with Live in Italy, because it splits the difference nicely between those two tendencies and showcases the ethereal instrumental sound and almost creepily girlish voice of singer Alison Shaw to such fine effect. The Cranes sound is one that adapts very nicely to the limitations of live instrumentation -- Jim Shaw's guitars are soft and spare, as is Alison Shaw's voice, and the touring sidemen offer just enough wispy texture to keep things from floating away entirely. The result, especially nice on songs like "Cloudless" and the slightly more muscular "Adrift," is both moody and gently exalted, sort of like a cross between Brian Eno and the Cocteau Twins. Recommended.

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