James McMurtry - Live in Europe


I feel compelled to review CDs during the year that they are released, which means I have some quick work ahead of me.  Today's subject is James McMurtry's "Live in Europe" which I've delayed reviewingmcmurtryliveineurope because there just didn't seem that much to say about it.  But there's enough, of course.

This is what might best be described as a bargain.  It includes a CD with 8 songs, plus a DVD with video of 6 songs at a cozy venue, all for the expected retail price of a CD or less.

The band includes the basic group that I saw in Charlotte, NC a few months ago, but adds keyboardist Ian McLagan.  He's given some room to lead in several places, nicely diversifying their overall sound.

That said, I'm not entirely happy with this CD.  The format can hold up to just over 70 minutes of music, and this clocks in at 41:55.  It wouldn't have been that hard to include more of the setlist in the available space.

I know, I know.  Why am I complaining?  It's a bargain, remember?  And I wouldn't want it to be redundant with material on the (basically free) DVD, would I? (Actually, two songs are featured on both).

Well, yes!  I don't watch DVDs in my car or through my tried but still true Boston Acoustics speakers.  By the eighth song in McMurtry's world, I'm just beginning to feel a little pissed off swagger about the rotten state of everything and doubt my conservatism.  Oops.  End of CD... and just in time!

To be fair, McMurtry is a keen observer of things non-political as well, and his songwriting skills merit listening even if just to appreciate the other side of an argument.  In addition, the guitar work doesn't necessarily sound like something special until you see it.

Therefore, the DVD is a nice inclusion, admittedly, and with "Choctaw Bingo" clocking in at almost 10 minutes, the DVD is worth the price of admission by itself.  His typical closer, "Too Long in the Wasteland," is also well done, even if its expected placement as the closer suggests that he needs to write another sprawling rocker just to mix up the routine. 

But, here I go, being negative again.  Why 39 minutes of video?  Why not more?  Who sits down to watch 39 minutes of a concert?  Teenage Miley Cyrus fans?  Or young moms with infants reliving the Backstreet Boys in between feedings?  Seriously, let's include enough product to get into it.

This review might be a little biased as I began unwrapping this puppy with more than a little aggravation.  Beside the usual hassles of removing the plastic and security sticker, another millimeter of paperboard might have made the sleeve large enough to extract the discs.  Pulling the discs out risked cutting my fingers or slinging my elbow into a hard object as they came free.  As it is, I forced Live in Aught-Threeone back in, and I'm certain if I reinsert the other it will cut  through edge of the casing.  Bad manufacturing.  Bad.

But, overall, it's a nice souvenir from the current tour.  That said, if you want live material or an introduction to McMurtry's music, pick up "Live in Aught-Three," which is a much more satisfying set.  Oh, and it plays better with a nice cold beer.

Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars


  1. The album's number of tracks is what is it a) because the songs are long, and b) there's a vinyl version, and vinyl has limited capacity.

  2. Songs are not unusually long or remarkably different from studio versions. Vinyl may be one reason - we used to be satisfied with 40 minutes or so of music. But, seeing as his last live CD had about 70 minutes of music, it makes you wonder if there were problems recording it, performances weren't up to snuff, etc. The limited DVD also suggests something more could have been done, and this just feels like an attempt to make use out of what came out well and recover some expenses.

    That said, it's still a bargain. If you like McMurtry, there's no reason you wouldn't like this CD/DVD.