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Joel Thetford Band releases killer live album to benefit Maine musicians

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Joel Thetford Band releases killer live album to benefit Maine musicians (photo by Matthew Robbins Photography)

Since the release of “Here I Go,” the 2015 debut album by Joel Thetford, the Portland-based Texas native has become a leading voice in New England’s alt-country/Americana scene with his songs that are deeply personal yet widely relatable.

Thetford was in the midst of recording a fourth record with his band last fall when they were called upon to open a show for Sarah Shook and the Disarmers at one of Thetford’s favorite venues. The set they performed that night is now available in its entirety on “Joel Thetford Band: Live at Port City Music Hall,” and its release will benefit local musicians currently unable to perform due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Half of the proceeds from the sale of Thetford’s live album will go to Creative Portland’s Artists Relief Fund, a charity organized by the city’s official nonprofit art agency. The fund will make available $500 stipends for local artists to help them make ends meet until they are able to perform again.

“It’s scary for a lot of people right now,” Thetford said during an interview with The Maine Edge. “Many of them are waking up today to no money and no food.”

Recorded on November 17, 2019, “Joel Thetford Band: Live at Port City Music Hall” documents the band’s complete set with new versions of songs from Thetford’s previous albums, plus an opening cover of “If You Don’t Mind,” a song by Alec Gross that Thetford says he has long wanted to perform with his band.

One of the reasons why Thetford chose to record this particular show was because of the venue. He’s no stranger to the stage of Port City Music Hall.

“We love that venue,” he said. “It’s been kind of a hub for me for a number of years, opening shows for people like Shooter Jennings, James McMurtry, The Ghost of Paul Revere, The Alternate Routes, and others. It’s a great room and I’m pretty comfortable there.”

Recording a full band in live performance can be a tricky endeavor, even for an experienced engineer. Many variables are at play, including the room, the audience, the gear utilized to capture the performance, and even the musicians themselves.

In a surprising move, Thetford opted not to tell most of the members of his band that he was planning to have their show recorded for potential release. He wanted them to perform as they ordinarily would, without worrying about nailing a perfect take.

Thetford says he arranged for his set to be recorded by Port City Music Hall’s sound engineer, Kyle Hussey, but when he listened back to a flat rough mix of the recording, he was less than enthused.

A few months went by, and Thetford returned to his home, situated in a building that houses a recording studio, to find his roommate and drummer, Dan Capaldi, behind the mixing board.

“He said ‘I have something for you,’” Thetford recalled. “I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Dan had reached out to Kyle to obtain the multi-track recording of the show and he’d been working on his own mix without telling me.”

Capaldi assured Thetford that Kyle Hussey had done a brilliant job capturing all of the energy and excitement of the band’s live performance, a sentiment echoed by mastering engineer Adam Ayan of Gateway Mastering, according to Thetford.

Nearly all live soundboard recordings require tweaking after the fact, which could mean relatively simple changes in equalization and balance, or the introduction of effects like reverb or compression on certain instruments and vocals. The nasty truth about live albums is that many of them see significant doctoring in the studio before release.

What we hear on “Joel Thetford Band: Live at Port City Music Hall” is almost exactly as the audience heard it on the night with the exception of a few vocal overdubs necessitated by Thetford’s habit of moving around the stage when he performs.

The musicians heard on the album include Thetford on vocals and guitar, keyboard player Ben Cosgrove (absent from the cover photo), guitarist Nate Soule, guitarist Matt Robbins (also the photographer responsible for the striking cover image), Ian Riley on bass, and drummer Dan Capaldi.

As a unit, Thetford and his band dig into this group of original songs and band collaborations with taste and grace, but with the crackling energy afforded by a live performance where anything can happen.

“Dance Again,” originally from 2017’s “The Outer Bank,” is performed with a slightly faster tempo but most of the arrangements on the album remain close to their studio counterparts.

“Here I Go” sounds like a song that is meant to be heard in a live environment. I miss the fiddle heard on the studio take, but the guitar solo makes up for it.

The powerful “Like You” from 2018’s “Broken Things” features more stellar band interplay and spot-on vocal harmony.

As Thetford delivers the plaintive warning “Don’t Get Too Close,” it’s goosebump-inducing as the key changes at 3 minutes, 16 seconds, and the band builds to heady climax around him.

“Money Tree” is a bit more rocking than the studio take found on “Here I Go” and gives the band a good workout in its five too-brief minutes.

The gorgeous ballad “Another Fall” benefits, especially during the instrumental buildup, by stellar band interaction. As wonderful as they sound in a studio environment, Thetford’s band are dangerously good in live performance.

This is the third appearance of the song “Broken Things” on a Joel Thetford album. The first version from “Here I Go” is taken at a slower pace, while a more rocking rendition opens and serves as the title track for his second album. This live take on that arrangement serves as an appropriate closing song for this set.

(Here's a Soundcloud link to the album: https://soundcloud.com/joel-thetford/sets/joel-thetford-band-live-at-port-city-music-hall)

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Joel Thetford talks “Live at Port City Music Hall”

The Maine Edge: You’ve played a bunch of shows in that room as a solo performer. Do you get into a different headspace when performing with your band?

Thetford: Yeah, it’s more frightening solo (laughs). I feel kind of vulnerable, you know, don’t screw anything up. It’s much more enjoyable for me with the band. We collaborated on arrangements, and even some of the songwriting, and I feel a real sense of community when I play these songs with the band.

The Maine Edge: What was the feeling backstage among the band about this particular show when it was over?

Thetford: We all felt that something special had happened. Most of the band didn’t know that the show was being recorded, and I did that on purpose. I didn’t want it to affect the performance. This way, nobody was nervous, and nobody felt like they had to nail it. What we ended up with is a really exciting performance, very well recorded, and with everyone playing and singing at their best.

The Maine Edge: The set opens with “If You Don’t Mind,” which hasn’t appeared on any of your previous albums. What is the story with that song?

Thetford: That song is by a good friend, and a wonderful singer, songwriter named Alec Gross. I’ve loved that song since the first time I heard it. It was the only cover song we played that night. I’ve always wanted to perform it with the band and this seemed like a great opportunity. The album represents the entire set as we played it that night.

The Maine Edge: Do you have any favorite live albums by other artists?

Thetford: One of my all-time favorites, and it’s a record that made me want to do a live album at some point, is Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit’s “Live from Alabama.” Most people didn’t know who he was at the time and it was kind of a gateway for people to get into his music. It was the first Jason Isbell record I heard. He’s one of my biggest influences. I strive to be as honest as he is with my lyric writing.

The Maine Edge: Was anything re-recorded or ‘fixed’ in post-production for the live recording?

Thetford: Everything you hear is as we played it except for some vocals. I’m the worst when it comes to mic-control. With a live recording, you need to be right there on the mic, and I like to move around a lot when I’m onstage (laughs).

(“Joel Thetford Band: Live at Port City Music Hall” is available on CD at www.BullMoose.com and on all digital download and streaming sites.)

Last modified on Monday, 27 April 2020 10:43

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