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Together at the Bluebird Cafe

ARTIST: Guy Clark, Steve Earle & Townes Van Zandt (Google this artist)
ALBUM: Together at the Bluebird Cafe
LABEL: Koch Records

Take it from somebody who's been overly concerned with the quality of production lately - this album is just what the doctor ordered. In an entertainment world of over-everything, Together at the Bluebird Cafe is real easy on the brain. Don't even go for that luscious home entertainment system ya got for the holidays. Play this one in your car, in your ear, on your cheap boom box in the garage. Three wonderful true-grit singer-songwriters, some buzzy acoustic guitars and a coupla mics down on Hillsboro Road at the good ole Bluebird Cafe in residential Green Hills, Nashveel, Tee En. And that's all it takes to make this CD powerful and mesmerizing.

As if their mommas were in the front row, these guys do a polite round robin of bits from their independent catalogs, taking turns singing and helping each other out with the occasional lick or background harmony. This aint no circle jerk. The respect they have for each other's work is most obvious - even beyond my favorite Earle quote to date, "Townes Van Zandt is the best songwriter in the whole world, and I'll stand on Bob Dylan's coffee table in my cowboy boots and say that." There's no ego here, though I'd still be scared shitless to play my tunes on the same stage after any of 'em.

Hey, the door's open at the Bluebird. What makes you stay is the quality of these tunes - each little story that goes with 'em, and the powerful personal emotion behind 'em. Earle intimates before Valentine's Day how he had forgotten to plan ahead for his wife's birthday-slash-anniversary-slash-valentine's day gift, and so here's a little song he wrote instead. Did it keep him outta the doghouse? Sure worked with this crowd.

Van Zandt warms the cockles in any parent with "Katie Belle," his daughter's personal lullaby, and this, as we discover is only one small side to his emotional gamut - he goes deep, this cat. "Aint Leavin Your Love," a song of stirred stubbornness, is his best Dylan, though he's not a mimic - I'm not sure he was even trying for that. "Song For" is sad and dark, while "Pancho and Lefty" and "Tecumseh Valley" are speculative folk-storytelling at its best.

Guy Clark is seemingly the most proficient at fitting a good tale into standard country song parameters, examples being "Baby Took a Limo To Memphis," "Cape" and even "Dublin Blues." Great lyrics, and then here comes the perfect hook we were hoping for. Family runs deep in Clark's lyrics and lessons, i.e. "Randall Knife" and "Immigrant Eyes," the latter helped by a sweetly simple female harmony to whom I can find no credit, (hmmm..Nashville...who could it be - I smell late-night radio contest!), and dedicated with loving honor to his father and grandfather. I may have overlooked these tunes on a more completely produced CD, but here they shine.

Steve Earle is the reason I listened, so I first credit him and exec producer Amy Kurland for bringing the works of Van Zandt and Clark to my and other's attention. Earle's masterpieces also glisten here within the simplest of delivery. New light is cast on "standards" such as "My Old Friend of the Blues" and "I Ain't Ever Satisfied." He's quite a storyteller himself, and he skillfully uses personal anecdotes to introduce many of his lyrical plots, one of which, "Mercenary Song," benefits from a short but endearing yarn from Steve's early pizza-slinging days. "Copperhead Road" is the closeout, and I guess that's expected, though this is the one song on the disc that would benefit from the full band effect. Nevertheless, it comes off charming and unpretentious. The crowd hoots approval.

Closing time at the Bluebird, September 13, 1995. It's been a good night. Good stories. Good songs. Good night. No insanity. As somebody, I think Earle, shouts out at the end, "peace, y'all."

review by Kyf Brewer

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