This jam-packed, action-packed set of two-dozen original song performances is the kind of event that rarely happens when an artist is still alive. It serves as both a retrospective and a refurbishing of a song catalog that, available in the form of a large stack of different compact discs, could come across as a bit overwhelming for the novice listener. There is something worth hearing on all of Bruce Piephoff's releases dating back to the late '80s, but on this one he does something special.
Most artists in his style are expected to keep churning out new song collections; performances of older material, no matter how great, take place so that the paying public feels like they have gotten their money's worth. (Concepts such as "paying public" and "money" are of course totally alien to the music scene in Piephoff's home town of Greensboro, North Carolina, but this tragic state of affairs will be overlooked for the purpose of this discussion). Music critics are particularly harsh in this regard, even having gone so far as to pick on no less a genius than Thelonious Monk for recording multiple versions of compositions. Many musicians agree, however, that in many cases the recording of a particular song, (i.e. the performance of a particular song that wound up on a record), bears the same relation to being well-fed as a signed photograph of the kitchen chef. Exceptions are often somewhat cosmic performances of songs that are practically made up minutes before being taped in a studio, then never repeated live. Piephoff does much live performing and can be assumed to have honed and developed the contents of his set list over the years. This collection, recorded live in a friend's living room, mostly as a soloist, proves that this is much more than an assumption. His warmth toward the material and familiarity with it -- these are his old friends, after all -- rings true, sometimes blue. The new additions, including the title track and an almost overwhelming "If I Weather This Storm," fit perfectly into the flow. Accompanist Scott Manring touches up the stark musical background here and there as if his deluxe collection of vintage instruments were sticks of charcoal -- an image, that like Piephoff's songs, evokes both art and barbecue.