Steve Earle has long had a loyal following in the United Kingdom after Guitar Town was embraced by the British music press, so it's no great surprise that the BBC has recorded a few of his concerts in England for later broadcast. Live at the BBC features a 13-song show Earle played at London's Town & Country Club on November 29, 1988, as well as four songs from a show cut for Liz Kershaw's show on April 16, 1987. The 1988 performance (which was previously released on CD as BBC Radio 1 Live in Concert) finds Earle in enthusiastic and talkative form, playing a number of songs from the recently released Copperhead Road as well some earlier favorites, an interpretation of the traditional English folk song "When Will We Be Married," and a honky tonk cover of the Rolling Stones' "Dead Flowers" (which he describes as "a perfectly good British hillbilly song"). The set isn't as expansive or ambitious as on Earle's 1991 live album Shut Up and Die Like an Aviator, but Earle is in better voice, and this edition of the Dukes sounds less road weary (though someone needed to get Ken Moore an electric piano that didn't sound so obviously fake). However, the recording isn't as strong as the later live disc, with the vocals echoey and pushed back in the mix and the guitars rarely cutting through the way they should; the flaws aren't fatal, but much of this sounds like it was intended for a one-time radio broadcast (which it was) rather than an archival release. The remaining tracks (from a concert at an unnamed venue in Manchester) sound a little cleaner but a bit on the flat side, though Earle and his band are once again in fine, rowdy form. Live at the BBC is the sixth authorized Steve Earle live disc to arrive in the marketplace (seventh if you include the earlier incarnation of the 1988 performance), and it's hard to tell who beyond hardcore fans will be interested at this point, but it does preserve the great songwriter on two good nights during his first run of fame, and it's more satisfying than most of the man's other concert recordings.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming