We all know what a live album is, and most of us own a few of them, but usually they've been recorded either at large arenas or amphitheaters -- or else they're a collection of songs from 30 years ago. A new live CD by a local artist is a much rarer breed. Such recordings provide a level of intimacy and familiarity not found on mass-marketed counterparts. I was lucky enough to witness this distinctive recording process firsthand on Sunday, and after seeing how Beumer and his band's presentation seamlessly melded the recording process with the familiarity of a live show, I regretted not attending the previous night's concert as well.
What I experienced made me feel like I was a part of the recording process itself. At the start of the show, Beumer pointed out that there were microphones attached to the ceiling so that the audience's sing-alongs, clapping and humming could be recorded. There was continual gesturing and banter among the artists, the producer, and the audience itself. And when there were technical difficulties, band members would tell jokes or jam to other songs that weren't being recorded. "When my hair was brown, there wasn't this much technology and things were simpler," Beumer joked, proving that this was definitely not a conventional live recording.
The process through which the band came together to record and perform this weekend was also unconventional. Many of the members met at the Union Gospel Mission, where they volunteer with the Celebrate Recovery program. After spending many a Sunday practicing at Empyrean, they decided that the familiarity of their practice space -- when fused with a supportive audience filled with family and friends -- would provide a perfect opportunity to create an album that could accentuate all the fruits of their labors.
Indeed, the atmosphere and sound that I experienced were impressively positive. Audience members were supportive and enthusiastic, and Beumer's descriptions of the songs highlighted his strong faith. The Caravans' songs have a range as well. Some are influenced by Americana and country, such as their faster-paced cover of "I'll Fly Away," while others have a much greater rock influence, akin to Dire Straits. Still others have a rambling storytelling mood like Bob Dylan's "The Hurricane."
Overall, though, the one-of-a-kind experience of an intimate recording inside the Empyrean's small brick-walled venue will most likely have a greater lasting impression than the minutiae of the music itself. Plus, if I want to summon such details I can always buy the CD: In a month or two, it'll be on sale at Empyrean.