More often that not, I’ve always felt that live albums are a pretty unnecessary endeavor. They usually come across as noisy, sloppy and disjointed affairs that capture only a percentage of the magic contained in live performances. A good portion of the live formats shortcomings can be attributed to the lack of visual accompaniment, but crowd noise and often unflattering versions of songs you know and love don’t help the cause. That being said, there are always diamonds in the rough, and Gareth Dickson’s new live offering Invisible String proves to be one such exception to the rule.
Now to be fair, Dickson’s music isn’t the variety that normally succumbs to the pitfalls of the live album. Dickson’s songs are mostly comprised of his masterful guitar work and haunting vocals, with little else to distract (or go wrong). You won’t hear legions of fans drunkenly singing along. Instead, the audience politely applauds at the end of every song, giving Gareth room for some dialogue between tracks. But it’s these elements alone that make Invisible String an anomaly for a live album, instead making the recording feel like an extremely personal and welcoming affair.
However, none of these things would matter if Dickson’s songs didn’t translate well live. The songs featured throughout Invisible String are selections from Gareth’s solo work, some tracks dating as far back as his 2005 debut album Spruce Goose. “Technology” begins simply enough, before evolving into a swirling maelstrom of delicately finger plucked strings that lulls the listener into a state of hypnotic bliss. Likewise, the intricate soundscape of “The Dance/Electro-Harmonix” lurks about with an underlying pulse that grounds the ethereal vastness of the song. The real highlight of the set is “Jonah,” originally featured on 2012’s Quite A Way Away, which dazzles in its mournful simplicity before quietly building to more stunning guitar work from Dickson.
If there are faults to be found with Invisible String, they are few and far between. “Harmonics” (which features mostly, you guessed it, harmonics) is a decent respite, but when contrasted to Dickson’s guitar work throughout the rest of the performance, it feels rather out of place and amateurish for a musician of Dickson’s ability. Similarly, “Fifth (The Impossibility of Death) is a beautiful interlude, but feels somewhat unnecessary to the album. Considering Invisible String is comprised of 17 tracks and runs well over an hour long, listening to it in its entirety can feel a bit overwhelming. But don’t let the length of the record detour you, just be prepared for it. After all, Gareth Dickson has carefully crafted a gorgeous live album of ambient folk music that is among the best of its kind.