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Live at the Union of Souls
Artist:  The Waifs
Label:  Compass
Time:  14 Tracks / 55 mins
The Waifs started as just Australian sisters Donna Simpson and Vikki Thorn back in 1992 before acquiring Josh Cunningham along the way. This disc – their second live collection – combines two shows from the 2008 tour that promoted their Sun Dirt Water release, and it is packed with mellow and enjoyable songs, often joined together with some relaxed banter. 
While Cunningham is drawn to country music, the sisters are not, with the result that their music is a melodic Australiana. Predominantly acoustic, there are often bits of harmonica giving the music an out-in-the-open feel, and a lovely natural harmony in their singing.
There is such evenness to this set-list that it is hard to pull out the highlights. This doesn’t mean that the disc is samey – far from it: there are many individually recognizable tracks. After fifteen years there is such a wealth of material available that it is no surprise to find only one piece of filler, “Feeling Sentimental” – but even this would appeal to those who like the retro end of Over the Rhine’s catalogue.
Noteworthy tracks include “Sundirtwater,” which is a close cousin of Peggy Lee’s “Fever,” from the finger clicks and bass lines to the basic chord structure; the homesick travelling song “London Still,” which takes you right to the hotel room it was written in; the chilled country mood of “Downroads” or “Take It In” – a quiet anthem that bursts with melody. Sometimes it is unspectacular features that appeal: there is little exceptional about “Rescue,” but it has a catchy, quiet, waterfall like guitar line running through it, and this motif really lifts the song.
Two of the only three tracks also found on their 2005 double live outing are re-worked: “When I Die” is almost unrecognizable with its bluegrass treatment; and “London Still” is now acoustic (although not too different from the other two versions, it could well be the best). The live situation is also a good chance to play with songs or collaborations that might not work on a studio release. Clare Bowditch joins them for a ukulele, upright bass and giggles version of “I Remember You” – yes, that old Frank Ifield one! – and they bring John Butler on stage for the distinctive “From Little Things”.
Towards the end the band gets a little bluesy. “Sweetest Dream” chugs with an acoustic guitar riff, organ takes a front seat and they even get an Everly Brothers feel as they sing the title; and something about the guitar work and carefree style of the closing “Pony” somehow reminds me of Free’s acoustic material.
While this is not a disc that stands up in the street and draws attention to itself, it does everything right. Its chilled, summery atmosphere and wealth of singable melodies make it a thoroughly enjoyable disc that never drags.
Derek Walker


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