James McMurtry "Live in Europe" Lightning Rod

Album Reviews, Features — By on November 11, 2009 9:36 am

(Note: This review has been altered.  For various reasons, the album was originally reviewed without the bonus DVD.  When McMurtry’s people caught wind, they got a copy of the DVD to me because they felt it was important.  They were right.)

It’s only been five years since the release of the well received “Live in Aught-Three,” and, more importantly, McMurtry has only released two new studio albums in that span.  The only song here that is not from these last two releases is “Fraulein O.,” which previously appeared on “Live in Aught-Three.” There are six songs from “Just Us Kids,” and one from “Childish Things.” That’s it.  (To be fair, it needed to fit on a single record for the vinyl release.)

However, what is here is extremely good, as McMurty and the Heartless Bastards are in top form, and the recording sounds great.  Anyone who prefers the looseness of a live show to studio cuts will be extremely pleased.  Others might feel their money’s better spent on a copy of “Just Us Kids” and the 8 songs from that album not found here.  Still, there is the bonus DVD.

While I’ve never been a big fan of concert videos, there is something be said for seeing the intensity in James McMurtry’s face when he’s on stage, and seeing the performance is really helpful in appreciating McMurtry’s guitar work on the extended versions of “Choctaw Bingo” and  “Too Long in the Wasteland.”   There’s also a guest appearance by Jon Dee Graham, who plays guitar and shares vocals with McMurtry on Graham’s own, “Laredo.” There’s also a song off “Childish Things” that didn’t make it to the audio disc (“We Can’t Make It Here”).   We’re even treated to a little bit of humor, as McMurtry opens with, “Now we’re going to play all the hits,” and in their willingness to show a guy yawning in the audience during “You’d A’ Thought.”  Still, as good as the DVD portion is, I wonder how many people might rather have a second record instead of the video (Obviously, I’m one of those people, but maybe I’m unknowingly outnumbered.).

In the original review I questioned whether the release was essential, and while I wish I had not used that word, I will go ahead and use it again.  I’m sure this will be essential to the McMurtry faithful, but that probably goes without saying.  For the casual fan, it’s a harder call.  I will say I prefer the live version to the original album cut on everything here.  And paired with “Live in Aught-Three,” it does give a nice overview of his work (albeit with some overlap).  And while I would prefer an all-audio package, it’s hard to argue with the performances.

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