[ECLECTIC ACOUSTIC] Marking the first year of the acoustic mecca’s existence, WW named Mississippi Studios “Portland’s Best Place to Get an Earful” in 2004. Judging from the aural evidence on its new disc, Mississippi Studios Live, Volume III, the title holds. From the first few notes of local neo-folk act Weinland’s opening number, the laconic lament “Piles of Clothes,” the stunning sound at the NoPo venue is undeniable. Just about any closed-door, controlled-environment recording studio would kill for this much warmth, presence and fidelity. Even a radio-friendly, major-label band like Ireland’s Hothouse Flowers never sounded better than it does here, on the lush “Peace Tonight.”
The disc presents a great grab bag of local acts, among them roots picker Tony Furtado, providing a version of “Thirteen” more gripping than that (the title song) on his last studio disc; Chris Robley & the Fear of Heights, who convincingly replicate the baroque studio-pop sound of “The Love I Fake” from its most recent (and WW Best of ’07 list-making) album; and Buoy LaRue’s beautiful, string-drenched closer, “Evening’s Dreams.” Joining these homegrown voices is a curious cross-section of touring acts, such as North Carolina folkies the Everybodyfields, S.F.’s arch a capella quartet the Bobs, and Texan blueswoman Ruthie Foster. New York gospel harmonizers the Holmes Brothers contribute a tune as well, alongside a totally out-of-character, gentle acoustic ballad, “Gold Lion,” from NYC glam-punk trio the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
Rounding out the track list are Eugene’s Jerry Joseph on his tender “Unprotected” (with great vocal support from Little Sue and gorgeous fiddle by Marilee Hord) and two erstwhile Portland dwellers, Kristin Hersh—who recorded her selection, the typically enigmatic “Sno Cat,” while she lived here briefly last year—and old-school east-side singer-songwriter Dan Haley (see WW, Sept. 12, 2007). Haley’s contribution to the comp, the glorious “Song in F,” features lovingly spot-on harmonies from Jonathan Newsome and venue owner Jim Brunberg (who also appears on his own track), and preserves the magic of the moment as I recall it—perhaps the best song performed at one of the best shows I saw last year.
There’s something about that too-tiny room, when the lights are down and the crowd is hushed and leaning forward, that makes magic moments happen at Mississippi Studios more often than anyone present—performers, proprietors, or audience—has a right to expect.
HEAR IT: Mississippi Studios Live, Volume III comes out Tuesday, Feb. 5.