Beginning with the opening blues riffs of Junior Kimbrough’s “I Feel Good Again”, continuing through the perennial bar favorite, Elvis’s “Suspicious Minds”, and closing with the acoustic version of Springsteen’s “Atlantic City”, Pete Yorn unabashedly wears his music heritage on his sleeve. In addition to the covers, throughout the show Yorn references musicians that influenced and inspired him, including some of his contemporaries. In his humility on stage and awe of some of these artists, Yorn seems content as a musician whose spotlight shines in the shadows of those giants that inspired him but Yorn’s own music isn’t anything to disregard. His songs and voice are steeped in the songs of those he claims his heroes, but carry with them their own honest emotion. Live from New Jersey captures the best from his body of work. Fans of Yorn will enjoy the slight variations in the songs and the intimacy of Yorn’s performance, and newcomers have an opportunity to collect Yorn’s best stuff in one album.
The constant references to other musicians and their importance in his life reveals Yorn as first and foremost a music fan—nostalgic for the rock era that he was weaned on. Some of the nostalgia Yorn expresses probably has something to do with the location of the show. Live from New Jersey was the last show of his tour, recorded on October 29, 2003 at the Community Theatre in Morristown, New Jersey—just a short jaunt from Yorn’s childhood home. (The same show was originally made available for download via Yorn’s website in January).
Most of the original songs on Live from New Jersey are from Yorn’s impressive debut musicforthemorningafter. The rest of the set is made up of a handful of covers and highlights from his sophomore album, Day I Forgot, with one exception. The exception is a tribute to the late Jeff Buckley, “Bandstand in the Sky”, written in 1997. Before the track, Yorn dedicates the song to Buckley, and also acknowledges the (at the time) recently passed Elliott Smith. Again, through his recognition of the importance of recent musical figures like Smith and Buckley, Yorn shows his humility as an artist. The song itself, although lyrically depressing, sounds like the classic sugary pop numbers from the ‘60s about life’s passing.
Yorn’s debut musicforthemorningafter charged onto the music scene with a fever. Rolling Stone gave the album the rarest rating of four stars and declared him one of their 10 artists to watch. His follow-up suffered the expected sophomore slump but did have its highlights (most of which are here). On both albums the songs that stand out the most are those that showcase Yorn’s ability to craft vulnerable, poignant songs direct in their arrangement. The live album isn’t much different. Although his more upbeat numbers, including “Crystal Village” and “Carlos (Don’t Let it Go to Your Head)”, are solid performances, with much stripped down bar band appeal, Yorn shines when his voice and guitar do the majority of the talking for the songs. “Loose You” and “Just Another” both showcase this talent beautifully, but on no song is Yorn’s talent as a performer and songwriter more evident than the touching “All at Once”. Accompanied by only guitar and a drifting piano melody, Yorn’s voice quakes with emotion by the time he hits the chorus. The passion he offers to his crowd during the song is relentless and moving.
After his debut, USA Today declared Yorn, “if not the future of rock ‘n’ roll, at least a promising new disciple.” It is unlikely that Yorn will someday swoop down and save rock as its future. I’m not sure what he would save it from or be the future of, but Live from New Jersey does prove him to be loyal disciple. Pete Yorn’s belief in rock and roll and his talent as a songwriter are captured here, making the album an intimate look at an artist who’s still excited to be living out his childhood dreams.