Personnel: Kishi Bashi (vocals, violin); Tall Tall Trees (vocals, banjo); Elizabeth Ziman (vocals); Joe Brent, Sara Caswell (violin); Carla Fabiani (viola); Mariel Roberts (cello).
Audio Mixer: Drew Vandenberg.
Arranger: Kishi Bashi.
Proving himself to be not only a top-notch performer but also arranger, K Ishibashi presents String Quartet Live!, which offers eight picks from his first two Kishi Bashi albums, as well as a cover of Talking Heads' "This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)." He's joined throughout the album by the titular string quartet and on select tracks by frequent touring bandmember Mike Savino aka Tall Tall Trees (modified banjo/vocals) and Elizabeth Ziman of Elizabeth & the Catapult (vocals). While the studio versions of these songs are certainly orchestral-minded, the presence of tempo-manipulated looping effects, synthesized sounds, and other recording hijinks on the originals would, one may think, leave these (mostly) acoustic versions seeming barren. Instead, Ishibashi's lively arrangements and more exposed songwriting shine in alternately moving and dynamic performances; one could argue that the warmth of the strings and voices here make these versions even more engaging than some of the already seductive studio recordings. One such track may be the high-contrast, jammy take on "Atticus, in the Desert" with Ziman and Savino, the latter of whom contributes banjo-head percussion in addition to vocal harmony and banjo. Less adapted is a pretty spot-on rendition of "Carry on Phenomenon," which like the Lighght version features drums, as does the exuberant, disco beats-assisted "The Ballad of Mr. Steak" (after all, "He brought the one, two, three/He brought the four on the floor"). The more intimate songs, such as "Manchester" and "Bittersweet Genesis for Him and Her," gain in live vocals and riveting string performances what they lose in effects, and "I Am the Antichrist to You" shows off the songwriter's emotive delivery and extraordinary vocal range, which is notable throughout. As for the Talking Heads cover, it fits right in, more elegant and stripped down than the original but very nearly as jaunty. For a classically trained violinist with a film scoring degree who often writes his indie pop tunes on the violin, a live string quartet album was probably not too risky a venture, but it's still likely to impress even the Kishi Bashi-familiar with its musicianship and pluck (pun intended). ~ Marcy Donelson