"If you think this is going to be a whole evening of anecdotes about dead people...you're basically right," Jimmy Webb tells his audience with a faint laugh in this live recording, which captures a show in Wales during Webb's 2005 tour of the United Kingdom. The legendary songwriter was touring in support of his 2005 album Twilight of the Renegades, which he describes here as a collection of songs "in memory of some great characters I've known in my life -- rogues, renegades, rapscallions, people who like to swim upstream." Fittingly, Live and at Large features Webb singing 11 numbers from his songbook, many of which will be familiar to longtime fans, and most are prefaced by stories about friends and artists in some way associated with the tunes. As one might imagine, Webb has some memorable tales to tell about his friendships with the likes of Frank Sinatra, Waylon Jennings, Rosemary Clooney and Harry Nilsson, while also sneaking in a few kind words about the still living Glen Campbell and Art Garfunkel. Webb's not a bad storyteller, but the real strength of this album comes when he sings; Webb's voice is in fine shape and he brings an intelligent and emotionally compelling sense of drama to songs like "Highwayman," "Wichita Lineman," and "Didn't We," lending a fresh perspective to songs most listeners probably know by heart. And while Webb is accompanied only by his own piano, his skills at the keyboard are estimable and he brings a wealth of tonal color to the songs, suggesting a real arrangement rather than a skeletal accompaniment. The disc closes out with "MacArthur Park," which is arguably the album's weakest moment -- at over ten minutes, this version adds three minutes to the rather overstuffed recording that was a hit for Richard Harris, and while Webb makes more sense of the lyric than the majority of interpretations, this cake has thoroughly melted by the time the tune finally comes to a close. Apart from the overwrought finale, Live and at Large is a fine audio snapshot of Jimmy Webb the performer, and it's no small compliment to say he's nearly at good as singing and playing his songs as he is at writing them.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming