Every holiday season, KBCO releases its famed Studio C album. Since 1991, the radio station has released compilations of performances done by touring musicians who stop by the station’s studio and donated the proceeds to charity. It has become a type of local holiday tradition — hardcore fans line up early to buy the limited copies of the disc, deserving charities get much-needed donations (station staff guess it has raised between $1.5 million and $2 million), and KBCO basks in the positive attention heaped on its brand.
As popular as the station is, its brand of adult album alternative (AAA) doesn’t appeal to everyone. So for many people, and I include myself in this group, the Studio C album is like any other Christmas album — you hear it a few times, think it’s pleasant, figure “well, I don’t want to stick a drill in my ears, so I guess it wasn’t too bad,” and move onto more substantial music fare.
If there’s any album that has a chance of converting the nonbelievers, or even breaking into your listening rotation, it’s this year’s album, the 24th to be released. It did for me. The talent on this year’s album is easily the best in recent memory. The 18 tracks on the album include big names like Phil Lesh and Warren Haynes, Wilco, Mumford & Sons, Florence the Machine, Jimmy Cliff and Steve Earle as well as other lesser-known-but-still-good groups like Mayer Hawthorne, Alabama Shakes and Blind Pilot. Probable one-hit wonder Of Monsters and Men opens the album, and Cake gives a loose performance of its No. 1 hit from the late ’90s, “Never There.”
Many performances sound like their respective studio versions, but the charming thing about the album is hearing the songs performed live, picking out the mistakes and relishing in the humanity of it all. Thanks to technology, audio perfection is readily attainable to artists with resources, so hearing them perform live in a small setting is a treat. Some tracks, like “Little Talks” by Of Monsters and Men and “The Walk” by Mayer Hawthorne, sound too much like the album version to be truly interesting, but that’s not always the case. It’s just Jimmy Cliff and his acoustic guitar playing “Sitting in Limbo,” and Warren Haynes and Phil Lesh perform (though somewhat sloppily) a guitar-bass duet on “Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad.” Imelda May’s performance of “Mayhem” is lively and driven. Though Blind Pilot plays it pretty close to the vest on “Half Moon,” hearing the group nail the difficult vocal harmonies live is a testament to the band’s talent. The Lumineers, of Denver, give a solid take of their single “Ho Hey.”
Not to say there aren’t some yawn-inducing AAA filler tracks (I’m looking at you, Marc Cohn, Graffiti6 and Michael Kiwanuka), but this album is, overall, pretty exciting. If you’re the type of music fan that wants to donate to charity but thinks, “What’s in it for me?” then buying the Studio C album should hit all of your sweet spots.
This year’s album benefits the Boulder County AIDS Project and the Food Bank of the Rockies. KBCO Studio C Vokume 24 will go on sale Dec. 1 at all seven Paul’s TV stores (located inside Furniture Row) and in Boulder at Denver Mattress Company at 1945 28th St. Visit www.kbco.com for more information.