One of Ireland's most enduring bands, Field Recordings sees Bell X1 taking a break from releasing chart-topping albums to look back and reflect. 2010 marked the tenth anniversary of their much-revered debut album Neither Am I, and in celebration Paul Noonan, David Geraghty and Dominic Phillips hit the road without majority of their backline to showcase the songs that have made them - in their raw form. Field Recordings is a collection of some of the tracks that made that tour great - warts n' all live recordings of shows from Cork to Canada, Berlin to Boston, and many others in between.
Considering the origins of that acoustic tour, it's fitting that two of the strongest tracks within Field Recordings are from Neither Am I - the often underappreciated 'Pinball Machine' and 'Slowset' shine, the stripped down and re-worked versions of both performed beautifully. David Geraghty's backing vocals are a highlight throughout, complimenting frontman Noonan to perfection, and his lead coup with 'Built To Last' sees his voice embracing the prominence it deserves. A brilliant bluegrass-tinged version of 'Flame' makes for an intriguing take on one of the band's biggest hits to date; however in the grand scheme of Bell X1 belters, the electronic-rooted tracks like 'How Your Heart Is Wired' and then work-in-progress 'Sugar High' somewhat flounder under the limited acoustic setup.
'The Great Defector' hears the crowd get involved, but overall the feel of this live album is appreciation over participation. The evocative nature of 'Bad Skin Day', 'In Every Sunflower' and 'Eve The Apple Of My Eye' is unwavering, these acoustic renditions setting the band's beautifully crafted anecdotal lyrics free from heavy production, further adding strength to their meaning in the process. Noonan is renowned for adding borrowed flourishes to self-penned songs in a live setting, and there are a few great improvised moments that make the cut on Field Recordings - the nod to Stevie Wonder's 'I Believe (When I Fall In Love With You I Will Be Forever)' to close 'Next To You', and the incorporation of Dusty Springfield's 'Going Back' into 'I'll See your Heart and I'll Raise You Mine' is a real treat to close the album.
Is it for everybody? Probably not. Strangers to Bell X1 would be much better served seeking out Music in Mouth or Flock and immersing themselves in the bands magnificent studio recordings to start themselves off. But for the fans - it's an essential, an absolute treat of a double album which adds a whole new dimension of retrospective appreciation to the band's catalogue of work to date.