Live – Songs From Black Mountain (2006)

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Live finally settle down — 15 years after their debut and ten years after the peak of their popularity — into a comfortable groove with Songs from Black Mountain, their seventh album and first for Epic/Red Ink. The quartet embraces the change in labels as a fresh start, moving away from the faintly desperate attempts at hard rock and grand statements that plagued the group’s work since Throwing Copper and easing into quieter sounds and modest ambitions. Not that Live’s leader, Ed Kowalczyk, has abandoned his signature spiritual pursuits; nor has the band departed from its U2-fueled anthems — but neither are nearly as heavy-handed in their attack as they have been in the past. There is a gentleness and genuine sweetness here, a warm mellowing of their signature sound that’s appropriate for veteran bandmembers now in their thirties. It also happens to suit Kowalczyk’s 12 new songs well. Unlike the tortured tunes that comprised the unsettled 2003 album Birds of Pray, the songs here are warm declarations of love, faith, and family. Sometimes they’re filled with angst, sometimes they’re sweet (and sometimes they still bear his typically overly earnest lyrics), but they’re tied together by a soft, understated touch in both his writing and his singing — never once does he approach the vocal histrionics that could make some Live albums a little hard to bear — that constitutes a genuine new wrinkle in their music. It’s the sound of the band maturing, and while it’s certainly more laid-back than any of Live’s previous records, that low-key approach feels right for the music on Songs from Black Mountain and helps make it one of their most consistent and successful records.

1 The River
2 Mystery
3 Get Ready
4 Show
5 Wings
6 Sofia
7 Love Shines (A Song for My Daughters About God)
8 Where Do We Go from Here?
9 Home
10 All I Need
11 You Are Not Alone
12 Night of Nights
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Live – Secret Samadhi (1997)

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Throwing Copper made Live stars, but it didn’t necessarily earn them respect. Evidently, the band thought that the problem lay with Jerry Harrison’s crisp, commercial production, so they hired Jay Healey as a co-producer and set out to make a messy, hard-edged visionary statement. Borrowing heavily from Jimmy Page’s bag of tricks, Live spikes Secret Samadhi with Eastern-tinged strings, sitars, and powerful, overdubbed guitars.

1 Rattlesnake
2 Lakini’s Juice
3 Graze
4 Century
5 Ghost
6 Unsheathed
7 Insomnia and the Hole in the Universe
8 Turn My Head
9 Heropsychodreamer
10 Freaks
11 Merica
12 Gas Hed Goes West
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Live – Throwing Copper (1994)

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On Throwing Copper, Live tightened their sound, added crashing crescendos for dramatic effect, and injected some anger into their sound and songwriting. They also eased up a bit on the Eastern philosophy; the result is a more cohesive, memorable record overall, and quite an improvement from the sometimes overly precious Mental Jewelry. And for all of Mental Jewelry’s ideologies, Throwing Copper is ultimately a more passionate and successful album, thanks to tracks like “I Alone,” “Selling the Drama,” and “All Over You,” all of which received heavy radio play. The rebirth-themed “Lightning Crashes,” the album’s biggest hit, was written in memory of Barbara Lewis, a classmate who was killed by a drunk driver in 1993. Other standouts include the Kurt Cobain/Courtney Love-inspired “Stage,” the apocalyptic “White, Discussion,” the bass-driven, obsessive “Iris,” and the dark “Dam at Otter Creek.”

1 The Dam at Otter Creek
2 Selling the Drama
3 I Alone
4 Iris
5 Lightning Crashes
6 Top
7 All over You
8 Shit Towne
9 T.B.D.
10 Stage
11 Waitress
12 Pillar of Davidson
13 White, Discussion
14 (Untitled)
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Live – Mental Jewelry (1991)

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Live’s debut album, Mental Jewelry, is full of Ed Kowalczyk’s Eastern philosophical ideologies, based on Jiddu Krishnamurti (going as far as to name one track here after a Krishnamurti book, “You Are the World”).

1 Pain Lies on the Riverside
2 Operation Spirit (The Tyranny of Tradition)
3 The Beauty of Gray
4 Brothers Unaware
5 Tired of “Me”
6 Mirror Song
7 Water Boy
8 Take Me Anthem
9 You Are the World
10 Good Pain
11 Mother Earth Is a Vicious Crowd
12 10,000 Years (Peace Is Now)
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