The 20 Best Country Live Albums of All Time, Part I

  

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!

Comments

  1. Rick says

    I’ve never been a fan of live albums due to sound quality and crowd noise issues. I enjoy live concerts for what they are but prefer quiet, clean sounding studio recordings to listen to the rest of the time. I will admit to possessing the live Buck Owens album listed above, Ricky Skagg’s “Live In London” from the 1980′s, and consider Merle’s “Okie From Muskogee Live” the greatest live country music album of all time because of what it represented in a cultural context! Merle’s put down of those damnable pot smoking, immoral hippies and anti-Vietnam War protester types was a well needed breath of fresh air even if the venue was full of cigarette smoke…

  2. says

    This is great. I love the Reckless Kelly and John Prine albums a lot.

    I’m hoping to see the live albums from Emmylou Harris, Todd Snider and Kris Kristofferson on the top ten, but I won’t hold it against you (much) if they don’t make it.:)

    • says

      True story: As I was deciding on the rankings, I actually thought “I don’t think Paul Dennis will like this.” Not to give away the big ending or anything…

      • Paul W Dennis says

        Sorry to disappoint you but I DO agree on the #1 album. I originally purchased it on vinyl – the original vinyl version would have been in my top ten, although not at #1). The second expanded version (the first CD release was also somewhat expanded) is terrific

  3. says

    Nice list so far. I didn’t know Radney Foster had a live album, so I’ll have to go get that one!

    Hoping to see Wynonna’s “Her Story” and Todd Snider’s “Near Truths and Hotel Rooms” along the way. If not, we’ll have to do a Top 600 List or something.

    • says

      I actually only have about 10 live albums altogether, I think. I’m not particularly huge on live albums for much the same reason that Rick stated. I, however, really love the limited number of live albums that I do have.

  4. Sam G. says

    I had a chance to buy that Reckless Kelly album when they were first touring, and now it’s out of print and impossible to find cheap on Amazon. I’ve always regretted that. I like their second one, particularly the covers of “Castanets” and “1952 Vincent Black Lightning.”

    I think that ultra-long version of “The Road Goes On Forever” is the definitive version for me, because it’s got Bryan Duckworth playing some rather amazing fiddle on it. REK’s band is still really good, but I miss Duckworths contributions.

  5. Steve Harvey says

    Someone please explain to me why Gary Allan hasn’t done a live album yet. Because if he had, no doubt it would appear on this list.

  6. says

    Adam Carroll’s “Live at Cheatham Street” and Scott Miller’ “Reconstruction” are two of my favorite records of all time, live or otherwise.

    Honorable mentions:
    Ragweed’s “Live And Loud At The Wormy Dog”.
    McMurtry’s “Live in Aught-Three”
    Jack Ingram’s “Acoustic Motel”
    Butch Hancock’s “No Two Alike” is brilliant for the enormity of it’s scope…5 or 6 nights, no repeats.

    Can’t wait to see the full list…

  7. Adam says

    I’m not a fan of live albums, but I really like Jason Boland’s “High In the Rockies” and Zac Brown Band’s “Pass The Jar.”

  8. Trent says

    Jack Ingram’s “Acoustic Motel” better make the top 10 or this list is messed up. Just Jack and his guitar singing songs and telling stories… absolutely perfect.

  9. mr sandy says

    Are you sure Viva Terlingua is a live album? There are definitely a couple of live songs on it (London Homesick Blues jumps to mind), but IIRC the bulk of the album is studio recorded, with no audience.

  10. SHORESLADY says

    So does the great 1974 Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen :”Live from Deeo in the Heart of Texas” recorded at Armadillo World Headquarters meet your standards for genre? What a party that was and it’s still like being there, without the smoke-filled room. The Commander proves that Roy Brown’s classic “Good Rockin’ Tonight” takes a steel guitar lickin’ and keeps on tickin’, and who doesn’t want the live “Seeds and Stems Again” blues? As Billy Farlow puts it “there’s a whole lot of things I ain’t never done, I ain’t never had too much fun.” If that’s not country enough for you, you can kiss my grits. So to speak, not that they’re available here around Dee-troit City,

  11. says

    I would have to say you have some good albums listed, I have to differ with you on the ranking of Buck Owens at #11….in my opinion Buck Owens at Carnegie Hall is the greatest live country album ever.

  12. Ernest Bilko says

    What a great List!, a bunch of my favorites, but I will say that McMurtry, Adam Carrol and others could have easily made a top 20 list of this kind.

    Also, Viva Terlingua (yes, it was recorded live!) whould have been in the top five. It started a musical form that lives to this day- yes, I’m talking to you Robert Earl Keen, Todd Snider, Pat Green, Jack Ingram, Bruce Robison, Reckless Kelly, and the rest of you.

  13. Steve Hinson says

    …guess only live albums still in print are eligible for this list…or else why would”Jerry Lee Lewis Live From the International Hotel in Las Vegas”not be included?

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