When the original Joey Cape/Tony Sly Acoustic split album came out eight years ago, I was still listening fairly heavily to both of these guys’ main bands. While in recent years I’ve gravitated towards more of what many of you folks would lump in with Pitchfork fare, these two men still hold a special place in my heart and their skills as songwriters warrant another look at some classic tunes stripped down and rearranged. Compared to the first Acoustic split, Vol. 2 is more slick sounding, but not in a bad way. Whereas on the first one they’d have synth strings, here they’d have real strings, or acoustic piano instead of an obvious digital keyboard It sounds more lush, but never overdone. That's not the idea here, obviously.
On Joey's half of the album, you get a wide range of songs from Trashed to Resolve. "Resolved," from a rightfully dark album, translates pretty well to the acoustic and slower tempo, also including some tasteful tremolo electric and something that may be an electric with an ebow. But you're really in for a treat after the tempo change, when it gets downright bluegrass, giving a whole new life to the song, perhaps signifying Joey coming to terms with his friend's death seven years later. Then it kicks into "I Must Be Hateful," which has beautiful fingerpicking and light padding keys, gelling well with Joey's voice, though it is funny to hear the Jawbreaker name drop in this environment. Trashed cut "Know It All" sounds odd in particular coming from a 40-something instead of a 20-something, but it is still a fantastic melody and works well here outside of perhaps the lyrics. "Broken Record" is the new song contribution from Cape, with simply guitar and Joey's voice. Very intimate and effective, only building to more aggressive strumming.
If I had to pick by songwriting along, I would say I’m a Joey man. But as far as arrangements, Sly does a more thoughtful job of fleshing out his half. His set starts with "Black Box," a song I was unfamiliar with, but I was won over by the chorus melody, and the cello, piano, guitar and accordion work together tastefully without being busy. Tony keeps "Soulmate" peppy, thank goodness, preserving the bounce with the acoustic providing the backbeat and shaker giving the downbeat. The bass even has a punk tone, as chunky piano chords keep a spring in the song's step. Same goes for "Chasing Rainbows," with it's Johnny Cash train-chugging drums, more accordion, and a nice acoustic slide solo. "Pre-Medicated Murder" doesn't do much for me as a song, but the arrangement is interesting with more accordion and organ chording. The album closes with Sly's new cut "Liver Let Die," a drunken pub-singalong that works nicely to close out the album.
Obviously this was crafted for die-hard fans of Cape and Sly, though I could see it being used as an "in" with people unfamiliar with them (or punk in general) before introducing them to these two's faster, more distorted back catalogue. Acoustic Volume 2 is a big improvement in sonics over the first edition, but like the first, is a very enjoyable listen for old fans such as myself. It's a bit of a nostalgia trip, and surely it was for these two men as well.