Leon Redbone has been a constant and mysterious force nestled in the periphery of American music for decades -- an ageless persona creating and interpreting music that recalls the front-porch halcyon days of a less-complicated American landscape. His albums are generally low-key affairs, comfortable and easygoing, peppered with warmth and wit throughout. This Rounder release of a 1992 live performance at the Olympia Theater in Paris, France encapsulates the Redbone mystique quite well, with the warmth, humor, and old-time atmosphere which Redbone quite naturally offers up in this less-than-intimate setting. The Olympia Theater is no small venue but, judging from the crowd response, the folks in the cheap seats were just as cozy as the people upfront. Redbone has a way of shrinking any venue down to the size of a Victorian sitting room, and the Olympia is no exception. The recording has none of the cavernous reverb one would expect from such a big space, and Redbone's low southern drawl keeps the audience's collective ear leaning attentively forward when he addresses the room. Onboard for this show is a small group of stellar session men, most notably the virtuosic and versatile guitarist Frank Vignola. Superb Dixieland cornetist Scott Black, and outstanding pianist David Boeddinghaus complete the time-traveling ensemble, and Redbone gives the guys plenty of room to shine on these open-ended arrangements. That spontaneous feel is what makes hearing Leon Redbone live such a treat, and what makes this record essential to fans who may have never had the pleasure. Amongst the classic Redbone numbers (the gutsy "She's My Gal" and the Michigan J. Frog-channeling "Big Time Woman") are dextrous ragtime workouts like "Waitin' on You" as well as some improvised interludes and humorous inter-band banter. Songs from more recent albums ("Sugar," "Whistling Colonel") sound just as timeless when pitted against early classics, like the audience-pleasing "Polly Wolly Doodle." The mastering is top-notch and the vibe here is as fun as it is reverent -- a great set from the guy with Frank Zappa's moustache, Colonel Sander's suit, and H.G. Wells' time machine.
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AllMusic Review by J. Scott McClintock