When it came time to assemble his first live album, Ed Hamell had two choices: make a record intended to pull in new listeners, or make one aimed squarely at pleasing his existing fans. With Ed's Not Dead: Hamell Comes Alive, he seems to have chosen the second option. Taken from a string of West Coast shows that were part of Hamell's spring 2000 stint as Ani DiFranco's opening act, the 16 performances here opt for energy over subtlety, passion over perfectionism. For the most part, it works. Pared-down versions of narrative-based songs like "Choochtown" and "When Bobby Comes Down" arguably outshine the full-band recordings, and the side-by-side placement of those two cuts makes explicit the connections that might be missed on the studio recordings. Ed's Not Dead isn't perfect; on some of the speedier songs, like "The Meeting," Hamell's propensity for cramming so many words into a short space means that listeners unfamiliar with the originals might have trouble understanding everything. But that's outweighed by the sheer power of his delivery; Hamell gets so joyously aggressive on a revival of his early "Hoo Hoo Song," presented here as a sort of singalong, that it's hard to imagine any opening act riling up an audience more. And yes, DiFranco takes a turn playing drums on "I'm Gonna Watch You Sleep," but it's hardly a revelatory turn; what's more exciting is the trio of new Hamell tunes, the best of which is the humorous, surprisingly personalized "I Hate Your Kid."
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AllMusic Review by Kenneth Bays