The second of two CDs released simultaneously by Jack Williams at the beginning of 2003, Live contains eight songs recorded "live in the studio" [denoted (#)] - with a small audience - in Nashville in September 2002, and five others [denoted (*)] recorded at Birkenhead (England) Town Hall in November 2001. Four of the latter five are solo performances of songs previously recorded with his band on earlier albums. This CD also marks the first time he's recorded some of his favorite 'cover' songs'. As was done with my review of Walkin' Dreams, I'll incorporate comments from Jack (italicized).
We're All Alike (#), co-written with Geoff Bartley, opens the album with a bit of a funk feel - acoustic funk, to be sure, but still kinda funky. The classic Why You Been Gone So Long (*), written by Jack's dear friend Mickey Newbury (who passed away while this album was coming together) follows, done with obvious affection for the song and its' author. A great reading of this gem.
Long Black Veil (#): "An old favorite of mine (and, apparently, everybody's). I always enjoyed the version by The Band on "Big Pink", which inspired this arrangement which I've played for over 30 years. On my long list of greatest songs ever written."
Blow Me Down Again (*) is a solo version of a song from Eternity & Main", and shows off Jack's fleet and nimble playing. I'll let Jack speak about Frog In The Kitchen (#): "One of the silliest things I've ever written, but a favorite among many of my friends, Judy included, who threatened me with dire consequences if I didn't record this critter-vs-human song. You'd better know what a "john-boat" (northerners only), a "skink", and a "limpkin" are, if you want to understand it." Although Judy seems as nice and harmless as Jack, I wasn't about to test her by failing to mention a song for which she has such obvious affection.
The Outlaw's Dream (revisited) (#), also originally found on Eternity, is a gorgeous work, done here in a manner that brings to mind the best, and most tasteful, of traditional Mexican music. About this recording, Jack says, "We just always wanted to do it this way, too." You might want to program your player for at least a few repeat plays.
Asphalt Blues (*) and Make A Believer (#) date back to "my rock band days", the latter more uptempo, but definitely acoustic in this performance. It's almost surprising to hear a song on which Jack strums rhythm acoustic guitar throughout, accustomed as I've become to his deft picking. But the following Waterbug (*), reprised from Across The Winterline, quickly takes him back into the realm of hot pickers!
Chuck Brodsky's Take It Out Back (#) and Bob Dylan's Forever Young (#) ("Also on my long list of greatest songs") follow, and are in turn followed by Jack's tribute to his mother, Mama Lou (*), revisited (from Winterline) as a solo performance.
The album closes with the full band playing Wateree (#), about which Williams says "Written in 1971. I was living in Colorado most of the time and pining for South Carolina, where I used to spend happy days in the Wateree River near my hometown. As close to bluegrass as I ever got."
Now for my minor complaint/concern: Having long ago lost most of my objectivity when it comes to Jack Williams, I obviously recommend this CD to anyone who is a fan of his; however, unlike some "live" albums, which I've recommended to novices as good introductions to artists unknown to them (Guy Clark's Keepers comes to mind), I'd probably not recommend this as your first Jack Williams CD. Not because there's anything wrong with it, simply because I don't think it's quite as artistically impressive as his other albums.
As one who has great respect and appreciation for the talents of artists like Jack Williams, artists whose entire body of work deserves to be heard, I want the first exposure to make the most favorable impression possible, so that the newly exposed will want to hear more. As enjoyable as Live is, and as much as I've longed for a live Jack Williams album, I'm not sure this is quite all that I thought a live album from him would be.
I suspect that's due to two main factors: the fact that half the songs were recorded in one setting, and the other half in another (almost a year later); and the fact that a small in-studio audience (as is the case with half the songs) may not be as ideal a setting for a live recording as an actual gig would have been. I just don't sense the audience connection that I've experienced and observed when I've seen him. Maybe this wouldn't be the case if the songs from one setting had been placed together, followed by the songs from the other.
Then again, you could ignore these nits I'm picking and just enjoy the CD - a lot, I'm sure.
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