Austin, TX, is one of America's great cities for live music, and the PBS series Austin City Limits has long been one of television's best showcases for country and roots music, so it's not exactly surprising that the folks behind ACL decided to step things up to the next level and start their own music festival. The 2004 edition of the three-day festival featured a wildly eclectic variety of material, but while that may have been a boon for concertgoers, it doesn't do as much for this CD, culled from recordings made during the fest. Austin City Limits Music Festival: 2004 features some very good music from a handful of fine acts, ranging from the Blind Boys of Alabama to the Pixies, but the stylistic sway of this set is a little too broad for its own good -- ultimately this disc lacks the coherent center that would give it the unified feel of an album rather than a randomly assembled collection of live tracks. It also doesn't help that while the blues and roots-oriented acts here (such as the Neville Brothers and Los Lonely Boys) get strong and full-bodied audio, many of the rock acts are dogged by thin and flimsy mixes that lack the needed guitar firepower (especially the Drive-By Truckers and the Pixies). Of course, there are too many worthwhile acts on this disc for it not to have some bright moments, and Calexico, Ben Harper, and Shelby Lynne are all in especially good form here, though why Solomon Burke, Wilco, the Old 97's, Neko Case, and Elvis Costello, all estimable live acts who played ACL 2004, didn't make the cut is a bit hard to fathom. If you were there, Austin City Limits Music Festival: 2004 is probably a nice reminder of some of the weekend's high points, but if not, this disc won't convince you that you missed a whole lot.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming