John Stewart' Phoenix Concerts is regarded as one of the classic live records of the folk singer/songwriter genre, and it's easy to see why. It's obvious that Stewart has an adoring audience at the peak of his popularity in 1974. Taken from a few concert sessions, the bands range from the artist in a trio setting to being in a full on septet with pedal steel guitar and backing vocalists. Besides Stewart himself, the only notable performer on the sets is legendary drummer Jim Gordon. Many of Stewart's classics are here, including a very inspired "Wheatfield Lady" and "Kansas Rain." The music hearkens back to a much more innocent time that many at this concert no doubt longed for -- just as the artist himself might have after 1968, when his dreams were shattered with the death of Robert Kennedy (Stewart toured with Kennedy on the campaign trail). Other gems here are "California Bloodlines," "Mother Country," "The Last Campaign Trilogy," which is so moving it's almost unbearable. With "Roll Way the Stone," "July, You're a Woman," and "Cody," Stewart hits his stride and goes over the top, and the gigs shift into a whole different gear. His stories are endearing and pre-date what Garrison Keillor did by a decade. The set officially closes with a stunning rendition of "Never Goin' Back (To Nashville Anymore)," that makes you forget the studio version and wonder why it wasn't covered by Townes Van Zandt or Mickey Newbury.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek