Live in Europe (Lightning Rod)
Reviewed by Austin Powell, Fri., Oct. 16, 2009
James McMurtryLive in Europe (Lightning Rod)
Documenting his first tour of the UK, James McMurtry cut Live in Europe specifically as a collector's edition LP/DVD. Unfortunately, due to the restrictions of the vinyl format – roughly 42 minutes – that equals a significantly truncated set. Wrapping up at about half the running time of the local troubadour's 2004 breakthrough, Live in Aught-Three, this collection lacks the political bite that pierced his more recent output, focusing instead on the character sketches from last year's Just Us Kids, most notably the title cut and acoustic "Ruby and Carlos." Guest pianist Ian McLagan is a welcomed addition throughout, adding a mellow organ bed to the exquisite "You'd a' Thought (Leonard Cohen Must Die)" and spiking the vitriolic "Freeway View" with jump-boogie piano that burns out on Highway 61. The saving grace is the accompanying 40-minute DVD, filmed at the intimate Paradiso in Amsterdam. "Now we're going to play all the hits," McMurtry states with his best poker face, then bares teeth in a vicious 10-minute version of "Choctaw Bingo" that goes off like Dylan at Royal Albert Hall, not unlike the economical blues of "We Can't Make It Here." Tour opener Jon Dee Graham adds further fuel to the fire with "Laredo," his chimney smoke delivery complementing McMurtry's charred baritone like black on gray. For that alone Live in Europe is a must-have for serious fans, but locals are better off taking the advice McMurtry offers before token closer "Too Long in the Wasteland": "If you should find yourself in Austin, Texas, on a Wednesday night, we're usually at the Continental Club. Come see us."