Scorching riffs and pulsing drums are two sounds you’d readily associate with Baroness if their albums were all you had to go off of. But these titans of the American metal scene, who call Philadelphia home, have lately taken to dialing down the volume — but not the intensity.
The first time we caught an acoustic Baroness set, it was at Boot and Saddle, where lead singer John Dyer Baizley was opening for Strand of Oaks’ Winter Classic in 2017. He brought lead guitarist and vocalist Gina Gleason along with him, and they played haunting renditions of cuts from the band’s most recent outing, 2015’s Purple. The way the songs transformed was remarkable; as we heard a generation ago in the MTV Unplugged era, not every heavy piece of music necessarily benefits from being stripped down to only an acoustic backing. And Baroness gets it: just because you’ve packed away the effects pedals and amplifiers, and given the drummer the day off, doesn’t mean you’ve arrived at something profound. Taking a song down to its skeleton can sometimes be a beautiful thing, and other times it’s an opportunity to rebuild in a new direction.
That night at Boot and Saddle, we saw Baroness take that opportunity, with thrilling results. The gravity of rock rager “Shock Me” came across palpably with urgent strums and impassioned cries, while “Chlorine and Wine” delved into the European folk influences suggested by its chord progression. Gleason tackled a nimble solo that danced up and down the fretboard, and shared subdued, yet moving harmonies with Baizley. We heard that version of “Chlorine and Wine” open up the band’s acoustic Key Studio Session this week, which comes on the tail end of something of an acoustic spring for Baroness.
Their latest record, the expansive Gold and Grey, was released in June on the band’s Abraxan Hymns label, and the first run of post-release tour dates saw Baizley and Gleason doing a week of acoustic record shop instores up the east coast. We get a taste of that in the session, where the band showcases three Gold and Grey tracks — an emotive, sensitive rendering of “Tourniquet,” complete with a very flamenco duel guitar solo at the 4 minute mark, alongside “I’m Already Gone” and the stirring epic “Cold Blooded Angels.” They also visit 2012’s Yellow and Green for “Foolsong” and “Eula.” Baizley’s gravelly voice howls, but remains in control of the melody, while Gleason’s alto is a warm counterpoint; their playing styles are complimentary as well, Gleason’s agile and precise, Baizley’s rhythmic and emotive.
Listen to the band’s acoustic Key Studio Session in full below, and keep an eye out for videos from the session later this summer. Tonight, Baroness is back in full electric formation for a tour-kickoff gig at the Chameleon Club in Lancaster; tickets and more information can be found at the XPN Concert Calendar.Baroness, The Key Studio Sessions