Steve Earle delivers a solo acoustic set on this live disc, recorded during an appearance at the 2005 Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland. There are already a handful of Steve Earle live albums on the market (most notably 2003's Just an American Boy), and Live at Montreux 2005 doesn't add much to his repertoire; while Earle is a captivating live performer on a good night, he works best with a band behind him, and the "one guy with his guitar" format of this recording doesn't show the man to his best advantage. Earle doesn't do himself any favors in this regard with his set list, playing several songs that don't fare especially well with only an acoustic guitar to prop them up, in particular "Condi Condi," "What's a Simple Man to Do," and "The Revolution Starts Now." Perhaps aware that he was performing for an audience not fluent in English, Earle holds back on the between-song stories that add so much to the flavor of his live shows (or perhaps they were just edited out for CD release), and though Earle is in good voice on these songs, he doesn't seem to hit fifth gear on this set -- this doesn't catch fire the way a good Steve Earle show does. Still, the man is one of America's best living songwriters, and the high points here not only show how great his work can be but the care and intelligence with which Earle can tell his stories, and hearing him sing "Ellis Unit One," "The Devil's Right Hand," and "Jerusalem" is a treat. Royal fans will enjoy Live at Montreux 2005, but other folks interested in a Steve Earle live set would do better to try Just an American Boy instead.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming