I wanted to do The 400 Best Country Live Albums of All Time, but Country Universe stole my thunder, so I whittled it down to a lean list of 20 favorites. Here are numbers 20-11, with the top 10 to follow tomorrow.
Agree? Disagree? Like to pick fights? Be sure to weigh in with your thoughts in the comments.
20. Live at Stubb’s – Reckless Kelly
When I first got this disc, it stayed in my car CD player for at least a month or two. Even with Bulletproof landing near the top of my 2008 album list, this is still my favorite available Reckless Kelly recording.
19. Are You Ready for the Big Show? – Radney Foster
Radney Foster is great live. This 2001 album doesn’t completely capture it, but it gets fairly close, with on-the-nose performances of “Just Call Me Lonesome,” “Nobody Wins,” “Folding Money,” and more.
18. John Prine Live – John Prine
Before there was Todd Snider, there was John Prine. If you want to understand what he’s all about, the winning combination of empathetic, self-deprecatingly humorous banter and pared-down live performances of “Grandpa Was a Carpenter,” “Illegal Smile,” “Sam Stone,” “That’s the Way That the World Goes ‘Round,” and “Angel from Montgomery” (with Bonnie Raitt) will do the trick.
17. Ragin’ Live – Rhonda Vincent and the Rage
Straight-up smokin’ bluegrass and country from one of the best bands and vocalists on the circuit. “I’ve Forgotten You” and the blazing cover of “Drivin’ Nails in My Coffin” are particular favorites.
16. Viva Terlingua – Jerry Jeff Walker
Recorded live in Luckenbach in 1973, Jerry Jeff Walker at his ‘gonzo country’ finest. Memorable takes on “Desperados Waiting for a Train,” “Backslider’s Wine,” “London Homesick Blues” and a now-legendary recording of Ray Wylie Hubbard’s “Up Against the Wall Redneck Mother.” Mix in the first appearance of Walker originals like “Sangria Wine” and “Gettin’ By” and you’ve got a night, and a live recording, to remember.
15. Live at Billy Bob’s Texas – Merle Haggard
1969 live album Okie From Muskogee – recorded live in Muskogee – is almost certainly of greater historical import, but I find this 1999 Live at Billy Bob’s album to be the more entertaining overall show. It’s so good that it prompted a sequel, 2004’s Live at Billy Bob’s Texas: Ol’ Country Singer, which is almost as good.
14. Top of the World Tour – Dixie Chicks
Setting aside The Comment and the ensuing fallout, there were still plenty of musical reasons to like the Dixie Chicks in 2003. These compiled performances from their 2003 tour don’t stray far from the studio versions, which is, in hindsight, sort of an affirmation of the fact that they were still doing what they had been doing all along, even as their public image was in a state of turmoil. Taken together, the performances are an impressive portrait of a band at the peak of its powers, making this the best Dixie Chicks ‘greatest hits’ set on the market.
13. No. 2 Live Dinner – Robert Earl Keen
Robert Earl Keen inspires fierce loyalty among his followers. From the outside looking in, this live album doesn’t completely explain why, but it does present most of the singer’s essential tracks in a way that’s fairly evocative of a Texas dance hall experience. Worth the adventure, even if the rather extraordinarily long version of “The Road Goes on Forever” might have you trying to wipe off some of the frat boy stank on your way out the door. (Undone: A Musicfest Tribute to Robert Earl Keen was also seriously considered for this list, so check that out too.)
12. Live in London, England – Dale Watson
If you want to ‘get’ Dale Watson, get this live set. Song titles like “Nashville Rash” and “Country My Ass” give a sense of where he’s coming from, but barely hint at how well he backs it up with brilliant originals like “I Hate These Songs” and “A Couple of Beers Ago” and a seemingly encyclopedic repertoire of classic country covers that includes Haggard’s “Mama’s Hungry Eyes,” Ray Price’s “Bright Lights and Blonde Haired Women,” Wynn Stewart’s “Another Day, Another Dollar,” and Johnny Cash’s “I Got Stripes.” Good stuff all around.
11. The Carnegie Hall Concert – Buck Owens & His Buckaroos
In 1966, Buck Owens and His Buckaroos (featuring all-important Owens collaborator Don Rich) took their Bakersfield Sound to the Big Apple and gave the performance of a lifetime, cutting up and tearing through a list of Owens classics so long I can’t even choose one or five to highlight by name. Not to be missed.
Who made the Top Ten? Find out here!