Our favourite artists dig up five records that they consider “Essential” by any definition they like. This week, Band of Horses drummer Creighton Barrett picks five great records that electrify without amplification.
"This is a bit of a selfish exercise for me," admits Creighton Barrett, drummer of Band of Horses. He's put together a list of his five most inspirational acoustic live albums - maybe an obvious theme, given his band's new record, Acoustic At The Ryman - but in this case, also a helpful one. Band of Horses performed and recorded that titular unplugged Nashville set with very little rehearsal ("which was fucking nerve-racking!"), and now that they're taking it out on tour (at Toronto's Queen Elizabeth Theatre on February 21) he senses an opportunity to listen carefully to the greats of country, folk and bluegrass and maybe do a little learning. After all, he's arguably the unsung band member who has to make the biggest adjustment.
"You can see someone like Willie Nelson and think 'fuck, that's so naked,'" says Barrett. "It never really crosses your mind that someone's not playing drums, how intricate and difficult it really is to actually lay that backbeat with two brushes and a snare. And sometimes it's just knowing when to lay off, which can be difficult too."
And sometimes that means unmooring yourself from specific circumstances of the original recording and listening to it with fresh ears. Take lead singer Ben Bridwell's "cover" of Band of Horses fan Denai Moore's version of their own song "Part One": "There's such vulnerability in that, it's beautiful." That's what Barrett says he's looking for in an acoustic live album: vulnerability, new dimension, and a palpable sense of time and place. Read on for his choices.
Grateful Dead, Reckoning (1981)
Creighton Barrett: I was always a punk kid until, probably about sophomore in high school, and somehow started weaselling my way into the Grateful Dead, which I would never have thought when I was probably about 14 or 15 I would ever like. It was a dichotomy for me, where I was like "this is good, but I’m not really into this hippie vibe." It kind of changed my mind. Just the beauty of, really, my first relationship with bluegrass, which was an easier door for me to open with the Dead than actually immersing myself in actual bluegrass.
And the players are insane! Just really well played musicianship, all the way around. It’s fantastic to think about how the guys remade these epic jams live, and just to hear how gorgeous those songs are broken down. As a drummer, I realized how fucking incredible Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart were.
People are coming back around to them, I think just because it’s fucking gorgeous music. I think there’s such a stigma attached to them, which is what my problem was. It wasn’t just the music. It was everything attached with it, which was a hard thing for me to break down. And then I actually went to my first Dead show and I was hooked. Like "I get it, I understand it, this is fucking nuts!" Still to this day there’s nothing like it. I mean, what a hole in music when Jerry passed. Of course, you know, the dudes keep doing stuff, but just in general what a movement all that shit was.
Old & in the Way, Old & in the Way (1975)
This is keeping with my love for Jerry Garcia on banjo and David Grisman on mandolin and all the fellows from Muleskinner, which was another fantastic record that I could listen to probably every day. It’s really cool to hear Jerry just fucking shred a banjo. That blows my mind. It’s a really difficult instrument for anyone to play. But also they play “Wild Horses,” which is just fucking such a cool version. I think I might have heard that more before I even heard the Rolling Stones'. That’s the way that song to me sounds, when I think about it, which is hilarious.
We've been working on some new covers for this tour. It’s so new to us that it’s just going to be hilarious and might be a debacle every night. We got together right before Christmas and went up to this place called Bat Cave in North Carolina, this radical old house. A lot of old Southern Rock bands used to go there to vacation or party after they got off the road. We went up there, we set up two drum kits and had our electric stuff up to do something that as a band we rarely get to do, which is just jam out. No reason, not have to have a rig to record it or anything like that. Working on Tom Waits’ “Old Shoes.” We were working on an A.A. Bondy cover as well, which is another fantastic fucking artist that I can’t get enough of.
Neil Young, Live at the Cellar Door (2013)
This one is cool because he’s so new to a lot of those songs that are fucking classic. Any of these acoustic live records, the vulnerability is the number one thing. It is to me at least, especially if it’s a solo dude. And Neil, it’s maybe one of the first times he played “Old Man,” which is just crazy in your head to think that that song hadn’t been around. Even at that point it sounded like a true classic. Or playing “Cinnamon Girl” or “Down By The River” without Crazy Horse - that kind of shit is really cool.
When he sits behind the piano… Sometimes you just have these artists where you forget they have any vulnerability at all. They’re already in your head as these stars. It’s kind of hard to put yourself in that place. I can’t imagine being there. It’s just really magical.
Townes Van Zandt, Live at the Old Quarter, Houston, Texas (1977)
There’s a lot of other Townes Van Zandt recordings out there, and to be honest a lot of them are really hard to listen to. He’s pretty fucked up. Talk about vulnerability. I mean, fuck. Townes, man, what a character in music history. Anything Townes does just pulls at the heartstrings so bad, but in this one he’s cracking jokes. I wrote one of them down. He says: “What’s white and runs up your leg? Uncle Ben’s perverted rice.” Just the corniest, most hilarious jokes cut in with that dude’s heartwrenching, soulful sadness. It’s hilarious to put the comedic side with that sorrowful, beautiful music. That whole crew, and Jerry Jeff Walker, all those dudes back in the day, what a fucking group. So much drug addiction.
I think this one is the best. You've got the beginning of the record, whoever is emceeing or whoever runs that club, he’s like “one more time for everyone who just walked in, restrooms are upstairs, cigarette machines are upstairs, pool tables upstairs, phone booths upstairs.” That takes you back, like holy fuck. He throws out some covers, too. He does a “Cocaine Blues” and his rendition of “Who Do You Love?” is probably my favourite way to hear that song. He gets so fired up and crazy sounding.
Marianne Faithfull, Live at the BBC (2008)
I did my hardest to research it and I think it is acoustic as far as I can tell. I’m new to her. I believe this last tour or a couple of tours ago, Tyler was playing her backstage. I never got to know her catalogue or anything like that. But he was playing her live BBC sessions. I was mesmerized by how beautiful it was.
I think probably Marianne Faithfull's most well known is her cover of “As Tears Go By.” I think she has a Herman’s Hermits cover or something like that on there, as well. She was always in the picture of bit rock, you know. She was somehow lurking in the Stones backstage or something like that. You always see photos, and I never really placed the face with the sound. I got it a few months ago and I haven’t stopped listening to it almost on a daily basis. I love it.