Live in Europe
ocker Peter Frampton and roots folk-rock mainstay James McMurtry don't have much in common, but they were both artistically defined -- and found larger audiences -- through live albums. McMurtry's Live in Aught-Three was released to substantial acclaim in 2004 on Compadre. Five years later, with only two additional studio discs to his name and a new company behind him in scrappy Lightning Rod, the powers that be felt it was already time for another -- hence this frustratingly short, eight-song, 42-minute set recorded on some European dates in 2008 accompanied by an equally brief 40-minute DVD. As somewhat of a consolation for the concise playing times, the DVD repeats just two tunes from the audio disc, and even though only three selections were on the 2004 release, this really should have been longer. McMurtry is in fine, gravelly talk-sung voice and delivers convincing, if not exactly electrifying, concert versions of his newest material on the audio platter. His band is great, especially ex-Faces keyboardist Ian McLagan, whose organ fills and rollicking boogie-woogie lines are classy and perfectly placed. McMurtry isn't the most magnetic frontman, although his emotionless scowl effectively mirrors the disillusionment described by the generally lower-class characters struggling to get by in the majority of his work. Fellow Austin resident Jon Dee Graham makes a brief but energetic appearance on guitar and vocals for the DVD-only track "Laredo." The crisp recording and quality camera work give the viewer a sense of the surroundings at Amsterdam's Paradiso club, where it was recorded. The playing is tight and the group well rehearsed and sufficiently swampy, but generally these performances are not different enough from the studio versions for anyone other than die-hard fans to notice. Unless you need to see McMurtry and his musicians do their thing on-stage, Live in Europe is a sturdy, potent, yet superfluous item in the singer/songwriter's impressive catalog of hard-edged, lyrically incisive roots rock.