Modesty is the touchstone of Freedy Johnston's limited-edition live album, recorded in the studio before an audience of friends and acquaintances. Granted, a thoughtful minimalism has always been a part of his work; songs like "Western Sky" and "The Mortician's Daughter" are so tightly constructed, so lyrically spare, that Johnston seems to have excised every line not essential to the story being told. But Live at 33 1/3 takes that aesthetic to a whole new level, one that applies not only within individual tracks but across the album as a whole. It's not just that the set is brief: six Johnston originals, a trio of classic pop covers, and a preview of the unreleased (at the time) "Radio for Heartache." It's also that the low-key arrangements focus squarely on Johnston's vocals and guitar, with only a lone sideman accompanying him. There's no between-song patter, either, leaving Johnston's songs to do all the communicating. Solid renditions of longtime favorites like "The Lucky One," gems like "Until the Sun Comes Back Again," and Jimmy Webb's "Wichita Lineman" are performed well, but they don't necessarily reveal anything not inherent in the studio recordings. (In fact, "Emily," for all the unresolved tension in its skeletal melody, practically duplicates the track from Blue Days Black Nights, which was already nearly a solo performance.) As such, this won't be of much interest to the casual Johnston listener, but then, that's not who it was made for. Devoted fans will want it as a souvenir of the singer/songwriter's live show and for Johnston's idiosyncratic takes on Cole Porter's "Night and Day" and the Hollies' "Bus Stop."
AllMusic Review by Kenneth Bays