Various Artists

Outlaw Country: Live From Austin TX

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Anyone reading the title of this disc and expecting a serious throw-down of high-attitude country music may be a bit disappointed; while Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings are longtime avatars of the so-called outlaw movement, Kimmie Rhodes most certainly is not, and Kris Kristofferson and Billy Joe Shaver are only tangentially associated with the genre. Ultimately, this is a guitar-pull round robin featuring five gifted singer/songwriters who share songs and a few laughs during a 1996 taping of the long-running PBS music series Austin City Limits, and the acoustic format and casual atmosphere of this episode give this album a relaxed, amiable feel. It's clear early on that these performances were not rehearsed and not everyone on-stage spent much time working out the material in advance; the spontaneous harmonies are often ragged, and Waylon gets lost and has to refer to his lyric sheet during "I'd Have Been Out of Jail," much to the amusement of everyone present. But these artists have all worked together and share an amiable camaraderie, and seem to get a kick out of sharing their tunes for their friends (and the audience). While Jennings has trouble making his way through "I'd Have Been Out of Jail," he sounds great on "Just Watch Your Mama and Me" and "I Do Believe," while Kristofferson is in better than usual voice and sounds genuinely enthusiastic as he plays a few new tunes. Nelson is typically laid-back but right on the money on "Too Sick to Pray" and "We Don't Run," and Shaver manages to sound playful while baring his soul with "You Just Can't Beat Jesus Christ" and "First and Last Time." And Rhodes delivers the most accomplished performances of the evening, sharing a splendid duet with Nelson on "Just One Love" and sounding sweet but assured on "Espirtu Santo Bay" and "Lines." If no one is in definitive form on Live from Austin, TX: Outlaw Country, this show gathered five friends who are also talented artists and sound happy and honored to be in one another's company; hearing them interact with an audience present is a real treasure for fans of intelligent country songwriting.

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