Bringing The Past To ‘Live’

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Today marks Vanessa Carlton’s second live release and the follow-up to October’s Liberman Live, this one entitled Earlier Things Live.  As the name would suggest, the EP includes live recordings of songs prior to her most recent studio release, 2015’s Liberman.

The 6-track EP, clocking in at about 26 minutes, includes her first two albums’ lead singles—“White Houses” and the iconic “A Thousand Miles”—plus three songs from her 2011 release Rabbits On The Run and a duet with Deer Tick frontman and Carlton’s husband, John McCauley.  All songs—aside from the latter—feature only Carlton singing and playing keyboard and Skye Steele playing violin.

The EP has a notable lack of any inclusions from Heroes & Thieves, despite the inclusion of “Home” in some setlists on the Liberman Tour.  For some—including me—this might be a point of confusion, particularly since her live rendition of “Home” is gorgeous even without ideal audio quality, but I’ve quickly overcome this disappointment, because Earlier Things absolutely delivers in what it has to offer.  It’s not an energetic romp, but that’s not an atmosphere Vanessa Carlton’s truly aims for in the first place so you likely won’t be going in expecting that.  Her live renditions offer a poignant, heartfelt quality that doesn’t come across in her studio recordings, making it worth the listen even if you think you’ve heard everything on it before.

Earlier Things opens on “Carousel,” which includes an intro excerpted from Tom Petty’s “Learning To Fly” that isn’t included on the studio recording.  “A Thousand Miles” and “White Houses” come up next in the tracklisting, respectively, with a stripped-down and intimate feeling to them that makes for a compelling departure from the originally poppy quality of the singles.

“Hear The Bells” is the next inclusion, a logical one given that Carlton has been vocal about its significance to her as essentially the catalyst for the entirety of Rabbits On The Run.  Making use of loops created by Steele, the performance is probably the only one on the EP to feel slightly fuller in its live performance due to the subdued, dreamlike nature of the original.

The featuring of “In Our Time” is the track on the album most likely to be new for listeners, even avid Vanessa Carlton fans, due to it being a Deer Tick song.  Its presence is notable at the very least for that, but also gives for some genre diversity in its bluesy sound that features guitar rather than piano.  McCauley’s raspy vocals contrast nicely with Carlton’s smoother ones, and overall makes for a sweet duet.  For those who have listened to the original, it still has something to offer for the acoustic sound that gives it a very natural feeling.

Truly the unexpected standout track on the EP is “Marching Line” (also known as “The Marching Line” in the original tracklisting), making for a very real case of “saving the best for last” as it closes off Earlier Things.  Its original placement on Rabbits On The Run leaves it a bit understated and overshadowed by the power of the album-closer, but here Carlton pulls out all the stops in an atmospheric, slowed, and incredibly powerful performance that allows hard-hitting lyrics like, “Do you know a love like a bullet in the chest?” to be fully appreciated.  It gives an entirely fresh look at a song that very much deserves it, and while the whole EP is excellent, this is the track that really sells it.

Unless you’re a dedicated fan or have an aversion to digital music, the $10 price tag for the physical copy may seem a little steep, but Earlier Things, however brief, offers some breathtaking renditions of its six featured songs.  Whether you’ve kept up with her catalogue and have heard every song before, or perhaps you’ve never dug any deeper than “A Thousand Miles,” Earlier Things is worth your time and money, for it gives an insight into the artistry and talent that Carlton truly has to offer.­­­­­

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