Last year, with the world in disarray, Fleet Foxes recorded and live-streamed a concert in Brooklyn’s cavernous St. Ann & the Holy Trinity Church, but due to COVID-19, nobody was able to attend in person. It’s a shame that this first live show following the release of last year’s Shore had to occur in complete isolation, but Fleet Foxes made the most out of the situation, transforming the unique, reverberant recordings from that concert into their first live album, the recently released A Very Lonely Solstice.
A Very Lonely Solstice comes a little over a year after the release of their fourth album, Shore, a delightfully uplifting record with a message of hope that defied the dismal state of the world. Musically, it was a throwback to the band’s early days of short, to-the-point original folk tunes. However, despite being less ambitious with its musical form, Shore is just as grand as the albums that preceded it, thanks to its broad range of sounds and styles, from big and bright rock songs to soft acoustic ballads.
On A Very Lonely Solstice, nearly all of the grandeur of Shore is gone: except for the first and last tracks, the entire album is a solo acoustic album starring frontman and songwriter Robin Pecknold. Without his usual cast of stellar instrumentalists behind him, all attention is on Pecknold, whose compelling performance gives his songwriting a chance to shine.
Now presented in a brand-new context, most of the songs from A Very Lonely Solstice first appeared on Shore. For some tracks, the difference is subtle, such as “I’m Not My Season,” which already had a sparse instrumentation. Pecknold’s low vocals are slightly more prominent, but overall, the song is just as calming and mellow as the original version. However, for other songs, like “Sunblind,” Pecknold’s minimalistic reinterpretation completely changes the mood; what was once a warm song with luscious instrumentation now sounds much darker and colder as Pecknold explores the softer side of his vocal range.
In addition to songs from Shore, A Very Lonely Solstice includes live versions of tracks from all four Fleet Foxes albums and two notable covers: “In The Morning,” originally performed by Nina Simone, and “Silver Dagger,” a traditional folk song popularized by Joan Baez. These covers highlight both the breadth of Pecknold’s musical influences — from jazz to folk — and, in specific reference to “In The Morning,” his ability to completely transform a song. Rather than imitate Simone’s one-of-a-kind vocal style, Pecknold transforms the jazzy tune into a folk song that allows him to inject his own personality into the song. Pecknold’s passionate vocals during the two-chord progression of the verse are vaguely reminiscent of the classic Bob Dylan song “It Ain’t Me, Babe.” The fact that Pecknold is able to blend musical styles so seamlessly speaks volumes to his musicianship, which keeps the album fresh throughout.
Despite its emphasis on solo acoustic songs, the highlights of A Very Lonely Solstice are its bookending tracks that feature the Resistance Revival Chorus. “Wading In Waist High Water,” which opens the album, has a rich choral texture for which the cathedral they recorded in was tailor-made. Closing the album, “Can I Believe You” ends on a very strong note, a refreshing reunion of the band for a powerful rendition of the Shore track.
Since their inception over a decade ago, Fleet Foxes have constantly evolved musically, with each of their albums having a new and distinctive sound. A Very Lonely Solstice is no exception, as Robin Pecknold finds a perfect balance between novelty and familiarity with his acoustic recordings. It’s definitely not ideal that the solitary nature of this album was necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic; however, Robin Pecknold made the most out of the situation, putting together a stellar live album that showcases his musicianship and uplifts just as Shore did a year ago.
Daily Arts Writer Jack Moeser can be reached at email@example.com.