Less talking cont’d

My wish list for live albums with less talking sparked a lively and interesting discussion about what’s the right mix of song and speechfiying from stage. And the answer is … it depends.

In calling out two musically superior live projects for the excessive loquacity (from your garden variety emcee chatter to pietistic testimony to outright blather), I wasn’t so much intending to suggest that talking has no place on stage. Rather, my point was (albeit implicitly) that the function of talking at a live concert is not necessarily the same as on a live album.

Every audience demands a slightly different repertoire of rhetorical tricks and tactics from an emcee and other singers to make a live performance come off right night after night. And I certainly don’t begrudge artists their talking - it’s their decision and their stage after all, and even if it bugs me, I can always take a Hagee Family Refreshment Break.

But live albums aren’t simply a recorded artifact of a particular concert. They are an attempt to capture the essence of an artist’s or group’s music in a live setting, as opposed to the comparatively cold-blooded environment of a studio. My hunch is, people don’t listen to live albums so they can sit at home or in the car and pretend they’re in that audience at that place and time. They listen to live albums to get that charged-up excitement that only live gospel music can give, when the drum kicks and the piano runs off up the scale and the voices fill out an expansive harmony in ever-expanding clouds of glory.

In the live context - sitting in front of a group as they perform - the energy and immediacy of being there colors how we hear the talking between and during songs, and makes us much more tolerant of talking than we are as consumers of recorded music. I’m sure Claude Hopper’s folksiness stories and long-winded introductions and meandering stories about growing in Nawth Caruhlonna seemed right and true and real to most people.

Record those same monologues, though, and they lose their spontaneity, their folksiness and whatever charm they might have originally had. I’ve listened to Live in Greenville so many times, I can tell Claude’s stories right along with him and cue the band at the precisely the point in his intros where the song kicks off. The talking has ceased to be live speech and become tupperware to be burped before the song can start.

Fortunately you can skip most of Claude’s talking easily on the recorded cd, since the sound engineers smartly put his intros for most songs at the end of the previous song track. But the Greenes 10th Anniversary Live is a good example of how talking in the middle of songs does not really age well at all on live recordings.

On both “When I Knelt” and “More Precious than Gold,” there are long monologues in the middle of songs that have - after dozens of hearings for me - lost any sense of meaningfulness, not because I don’t think the performances weren’t given in earnest originally but because the sense of improvisation that gave the music and monologues emotional heft in the original (the fact that you’re experiencing word and song together as one holistic piece of gospel performance art) collapses once it’s committed to tape, and the talking molders and mummifies itself in contrast the eternal vitality of the song.

The egg-head scholar in me is grateful to have these warts-and-all live recordings as fine examples of late 20th-century white gospel performance style.

But sometimes the fan-boy me thinks Tim’s Tony’s prayer before that final fabulous finale of “More Precious than Gold” will simply never end, and it’s not the good kind of suspense. And I just wish - for the love all things holy and gospel - that Kim would stop cry-talking in the middle of “When I Knelt” so she and boys can end it and heaven can come pouring down on all over.

Update: Reader SDG raises a good point:

Between the vocal stacking and the canned music, what exactly is the difference between “the essence of an artist’s or group’s music in a live setting” and the “cold-blooded environment of a studio” again?

I guess my response is somewhat solipsistic: the discussion above was undertaken with the assumption that the sort of live albums I have in mind are ones that aren’t just full of karaoke cuts with a camera running. We’re not, of course, talking here about full-band live albums, but live recordings that use a mix of tracks and live instruments (Live in Greenville falls into this category) and/or a mix of songs with tracks and songs with just piano and bass (see Alive Deep in the Heart of Texas) in a way that doesn’t manage to lose the warmblooded quality of good live albums.

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  1. Andrew S. wrote:

    You mentioned talking in the middle of songs.. One I remember was when Amy Lambert was singing a power ballad on their “Live! In North Carolina” (idk the correct title) tape. Tony stopped her in the middle and started talking and got the group to sing “Because He Loved Me.” Kinda awkward..

  2. observor wrote:

    Tony was praying not Tim

  3. Janet B wrote:

    On one of my fave albums of all time, Dallas Holm & Praise Live, (not sg, sorry), DH introduces everyone on stage to the audience - right between 2 of my fave songs. Why oh why oh why? Always bugged me. Maybe if I had it on cd I could skip over it…

    One thing I like about the soundtracks to the HC videos is that they (mostly) leave out the bloviating. But…I could do without the endless encores. Move along, I say. The Spirit may have been moving at that moment…but the moment’s over now.

  4. Bud Alexander wrote:

    10 paragraphs about less talking?

  5. Irishlad wrote:

    I loved the double live imperials album from around ‘74 where/when the power went down and JM called out for alex alex alextrician then proceeded to introduce sherman andrus by saying his parents “rocked him”…they threw big rocks at him and when they (the imps)watched sunday football sherman thought they were talking about him when the players got into a huddle,a nice way to skirt the racial controversy i thought.Then to effortlessly ague into a thought provoking soliloquy of the teen drug problem in L.A all the while being hypnotically serenaded by a soft tinkering of the ivories.Now that i could. listen to all day every day.

  6. Irishlad wrote:

    oops a daisy..segue.

  7. Irishlad wrote:

    #4 i hate it when the prof.lets words get in the way of what he’s trying to say.

  8. joe wrote:

    “The talking has ceased to be live speech and become tupperware to be burped before the song can start.” Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant!

  9. Soli Deo Gloria wrote:

    Between the vocal stacking and the canned music, what exactly is the difference between “the essence of an artist’s or group’s music in a live setting” and the “cold-blooded environment of a studio” again?

  10. quartet-man wrote:

    When I saw the preceding post about this,I too thought of Live Deep In The Heart Of Texas. That had it about right. Tracks where needed, and piano / bass at times. The Cats got a chance to cut loose and perform instead of record, and I love it. To this day, Because He Lives (off the cuff apparently) is my favorite. There are other versions of songs on there that I prefer to the originals. Some would be songs originally on the Radio Days CD. There is much more energy on the live CD and the piano and bass are just enough instruments.

  11. Deron J. wrote:

    A good example of what a live album should be for me would be Greater Vision’s Live at First Baptist Atlanta. I think that the mix of new songs with orchestra with a couple with tracks that they had previously released along with a convention song with just Stan Whitmire provided a great mix.

    And you can say whatever you’d like about Gerald Wolfe talking too much, but his introductions on the album never get old to me. That’s one of the reasons why I think that he’s the best emcee in the business today.

  12. Charlie Sexton wrote:

    I was at FBA the night GV recorded. The buzz that night was that they were paying the orchestra something like 10K/hr. They’d already spent an hour on rehearsal and sound check. I’d say GW’s talking was pretty well kept in check - no pun intended…

  13. RK wrote:

    I would propose a 30 second rule: no more than 30 seconds of talking between songs on a live recording, with perhaps one exception for just one longer talking sequence. Doesn’t mean you mean can’t talk longer on stage, or the video recording if applicable, but the longer talking would be cut out of the audio recording. It can be done.

    I can’t tell you how many 9 minute mp3 song files I’ve edited down to the actual 3 minutes and 15 seconds of singing.

  14. SM wrote:

    Reading this post brought to mind the emcee ability of Jeff Gibson on the Heavenbound live albums. He always seemed to be able to master the right amount of talking segue between songs to carry a live album from one song to the next. The project “Live in Springfield” is one really good example (also with some really great music on it too).

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