Little Elephant SessionsFat Wreck Chords
By Cole Faulkner
Sundowner has emerged from the minimalist side-project of Lawrence Arms co-vocalist Chris McCaughan, to a worthy successor and centerpiece should the long running trio ever call it quits. As far as heartfelt acoustic tunes are concerned, Sundowner’s output has steadily evolved to a topnotch band-supported experience in just three full lengths. But when McCaughan goes on tour he doesn’t necessarily take his bits and pieces with him. And when he recently agreed to sit down and perform a four set live session for Toledo, OH’s Little Elephant Live, he was just one man, a mic and his guitar.
Featuring a collage of career spanning cuts, McCaughan strips down and wears his heart on his sleeve. As such, Little Elephant Sessions features some of the most personal versions of well-established fan favourites. For the first time, Sundowner treats fans to a bare-bones rendition of “Cemetery West,” which serves as the sole representative of his present-day Neon Fiction-era work. Possibly one of McCaughan’s most moving pieces, the absence of any sort of production heightens the already weighted emotional state. McCaughan’s voice pops and crackles like a vinyl record personified. Each imperfection emerges at just the right moment, affording further depth, particularly during instrumental absence. Take for instance how emotionally strained passages enrich the defeatist mentality of Lawrence Arms classic “Great Lakes/Great Escapes” – a track which further receives an artistic makeover in overall tempo and vocal emphasis. The same goes for the far more animated installment of Four One Five Two’s “Midsummer Classic,” which when placed side by side with the original, serves as a case study in McCaughan’s ongoing growth as a solo artist. Chase The Waves-era “In The Flicker” demonstrates similar vision, differentiating itself from its source and giving listeners a reason to revisit an already standout track.
Little Elephant Sessions features four stand-alone takes that deserve to join the Sundowner discography as much as any canonical studio recording. While reverting to the stripped down essentials won’t replace Sundowner’s evolving full band trajectory, these four songs act as a deserving supplement and testament to McCaughan’s expert musicianship. That even earlier career tracks spark to life seven years later speaks volumes. McCaughan offers fans more than a good reason to revisit some of Sundowner and The Lawrence Arms’ best material.