Maxwell Bailey’s "In Between"
Our author reviews the Boston-based singer-songwriter’s live EP.
Any space, given proper arrangement and enough vision, can be turned into a stage. That’s the argument made by In Between, a live EP from Boston-based singer-songwriter Maxwell Bailey, who in February of this year rented a room on Airbnb and, aided only by a lone camera operator, laid down four tracks in a single go with his Gretsch Streamliner hollow body; he’s spent the last months, starting back in March, releasing video of the session through his self-named YouTube channel. The record dropped on 06/15, though how you choose to consume it will invariably shape your reaction to it.
This is likely Bailey’s goal, or, if you take In Between not simply as a piece of music but as a clear-eyed artistic statement, his point: That music is best enjoyed in a live setting, be the setting large in scale or considerably more intimate. “Intimate” may be the word that best describes the project: Nothing’s more up close and personal than being in the room, of course, but if you can’t be in the room, watching at a distance through a camera’s lens isn’t a bad substitution. Bailey, comfortable in his near-isolation, strums and croons as if no one can see him, though being seen is the ultimate goal. He just wants to be seen, his music to be experienced, after the fact rather than in the moment, stowing away the sensations of a live performance in a portable package to be enjoyed anywhere, anytime.
Bailey’s concept raises an immediate question: “Why?” You can buy your favorite bands’ concert DVDs, but that’s not the same thing as buying a ticket to see them live where their music washes over you in full. Watching In Between on YouTube, you don’t get the latter, only the former, and not for nothing but Bailey’s chosen venue, observed on a screen, doesn’t lend depth to his sound (though for what it’s worth, the brick-walled apartment doesn’t scream of gimmickry, either). If anything, the YouTube clips feel superfluous, failing to deliver on live music’s promise or offer an alternative justification for being. It’s rather like Dorothy pulling back the curtain on the Wizard. To look upon Bailey in the flesh is to dilute the effect of the exercise.
It’s nice, at least, to put a face to the name, the lyrics, and the musicianship, but In Between is best enjoyed aurally and not visually. Deprived of his image, Bailey’s music weaves its raw and imperfect magic (these, again, being his own words). His lyrics strike with heightened urgency. His guitar work, too, rings earnest and true, if he occasionally squelches his notes. In Between is near-brilliant in ideation; taking a cynical view, one might accuse Bailey of making excuses for gaffs by selling it in parts on its flaws, and if that’s the view you take you might buck him faster than a horse bucks a rider. But it’s difficult to mistake, his good, introspective intentions as we listen to him talk about love (“...so we spent those years building a galaxy,” “Movie Stars”), grief (“They remembered her in their shame/it’s the only way they know to cope,” “Daylight”), and even the purpose of music, as on the EP’s opener, “Melody.” It’s Bailey’s sincerity that carries In Between, even more so than his talent.
But most of all he’s able to pull us into the room with him with harmonies coated by reverb. The record suggests openness, reminds us at every turn that we’re hearing a person play without the benefit of a studio; if the effort isn’t always successful, In Between’s “take it as you hear it” vibe is never less than respectable.