Review Summary: Intimate and gentle, with a huge amount of heart
The folksy intimacy of The Corrs has always lent itself more to environments like cafés and basements than to stadiums and exhibition centres. The livelier, notably more poppy sound found on a lot of their more recent releases had somewhat more of a festival feel, but the band have always managed to retain some semblance of the countrified energy that soaked through their earlier material like red wine through an immaculate dress shirt. It is hugely gratifying, then, that The Corrs' unplugged performance is a small, intimate studio show, positively shimmering with their bright, upbeat energy. Part of the MTV Unplugged series, it exhibits the knockaround quality of a careful rehearsal, feeling almost impromptu in its co-ordination. This is not to imply that it feels of a subpar, throwaway quality, but rather that it displays a sense of delicate, personable harmony during the session. It evokes a candelit, atmospherically personal performance; impressively warm for such stripped-back renditions of the iconic songs. In the typical fashion of a live recording, there are moments of crispness to the production that feel a little too polished and rob the experience of that distinctly 'human' touch, but for the most part this is an excellent acoustic performance and a worthy, light-touch greatest hits collection in its own right.
Recorded in County Wicklow toward the end of 1999, the sound throughout is clear-cut and sparkling, which magnifies the simple melodies and likeable harmonies the band are known for. Backed by an impressive orchestral contingent and featuring the band on an assortment of foreground instruments and vocal duties, the finished packaged feels remarkably well-rounded for such a simple folk sound. The lack of electronic emphasis also helps to file down the corners of the more poppy sensibilities seen in certain songs, and in stripping them away regain the edge of the notable Celtic sound within the minimalism of the acoustic renditions. Favourites like 'What Can I Do', 'Runaway' and 'So Young' are afforded a restrained energy by the more controlled scope of the musicality, with 'Runaway' especially benefitting from this downscaling, making an already slow, simple song feel almost skeletal, lending refocused nuance to its thematic centrepiece. 'So Young''s sense of mischievous effervescence is retained in the vocal inflections which are as jubilant as the studio recording, but in creating a less busy musical background, the result feels more playful, yet more serious with the darker implications of its less-vibrant tone.
Covers of 'Little Wing', 'Everybody Hurts' and 'No Frontiers' are respectful and tasteful in their integration, brought to The Corrs' distinctive pace and sense of folkish buoyancy with a careful flair. Traditional pieces like 'Toss The Feathers' and '(Lough) Erin Shore' are gorgeous and positioned at optimal places within the setlist to serve as bridges between the different movements. 'Radio' is remarkably heartfelt as an acoustic composition, becoming a lively yet restrained ode to a bygone era, full of character and definition that is present to a far lesser extent on the studio recording. Introductory track 'Only When I Sleep', taken from 1997's Talk On Corners, is a beautifully written pop song with an undeniably Celtic sheen to its verses. The acoustic version preserves the catchiness and adds further emphasis to Andrea Corr's sterling vocal performance, particularly during the chorus. Vocal harmonies on the recording are universally graceful and intricately woven, and the instrumentation on virtually every song captures the heart of its original rendition, whilst simultaneously imbuing it with a simpler, purer energy all its own.
The sound of The Corrs and their brand of poppy folk is served phenomenally well by the setting of this recording. The experience feels calm, unhurried, yet is able to exhibit urgency and emotion to surprising effect when the occasion calls for it- a well-deserved credit to Andrea Corr's voice, the rest of the band's performance, and the wonderfully utilised orchestra. Songs that felt a little too pop-leaning for the quintet are given their sanguine sense of heritage and allowed room to breathe, fully encapsulating the core sound of The Corrs as a band, and stripping away all unnecessary fluff to get there. It's a warm, gentle experience that is occasionally inspiring, often heartrending, but always entertaining. An exceptional live recording and a worthy assortment of covers and much-loved material.