Pete Price’s album Department of the Interior rates as one of the best indie albums released in recent memory and this accompanying live release, Live at the Yellow Cab Tavern, provides listeners with excellent interpretations of the songwriter’s material. Price augments his core lineup of lead guitarist Casey Davis, bassist and background vocalist Matt Scholp, drummer Steve Phelps, and keyboardist/backing vocalist Jeff Tutt with special appearances. Guitarists Allen Seals and Nick Kizimis join the band at key points alongside violinist John Lardinois, and a brass section of tenor sax player Hal Melia and trombonist Gary King. It ensures listeners hear faithful renditions of the album’s material rather than truncated versions.
We should welcome this. Pete Price’s songwriting deserves the fullest possible live interpretation, and the opening cut “Diamonds in the Sky” proves he can deliver. It’s an ideal album opener and equally so in a live setting. The brisk pace brings listeners into his musical world with a woosh and the band plays with relaxed confidence throughout the performance. The blend of backing vocals with Price’s lead vocal is especially effective.
“Common Ground” slows the musical character down without losing any of its soul. John Lardinois’ part in the musical identity of this music emerges in earnest for the first time and his ability to mix his violin playing with the other instruments results in one of the set’s best songs. His lyrics are as sharp as ever and Price’s vocal phrasing stands out as another highlight. There’s some tasty guitar layered throughout the third cut “One More Time” and its bluesy inclinations are a treat breaking with the first two songs. Price, in the space of three songs, gives us a different look each time and they are all equally satisfying.
“Before I Go” spotlights the literal quality of Price’s lyric writing, but that isn’t a drawback. His style allows listeners a wide open avenue for understanding the material rather than wallowing in willful obscurity. The perspective driving many of Price’s songs is that of an older man, without question, but anyone who has experienced life can relate to his words. There’s a lot of vigor and brio powering “The Crossing” and Lardinois’ violin takes on greater prominence than ever before. His playing imbues the track with a sense of setting that wonderfully comports with the lyrical content. It’s a song laden with symbolism, but it’s the direct kind that listeners will connect with.
“Foolish Heart” is another of the live album’s greatest treasures. It’s a darker tune than many of the others on Live at the Yellow Cab Tavern, but the melodicism that forms the foundation of his material never vanishes. Price delivers one of his finest, albeit tortured, vocals and the emotive skill evident in the song pushes it even higher into the upper echelon of the album’s best outings. The rousing finale of the set, a cover of Joe Cocker’s iconic “The Letter”, doesn’t find Price attempting to ape the Scottish bray of Cocker, but he nevertheless captures the spirit of the song while putting his stamp on the proceedings. Spirit is an important word to use when discussing this release. It’s a rousing effort from start to finish and fully human.