Freedy Johnston

Live at McCabe's Guitar Shop

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One of the first offerings in a series of live albums culled from the archives of McCabe's Guitar Shop, a celebrated music store and performance space in Santa Monica, CA, this disc preserves a 13-song set from singer/songwriter Freedy Johnston, who at the time was in Los Angeles recording his fine 1999 album, Blue Days Black Nights. The first half of the show is devoted to songs from the then-gestating album, and the often downbeat mood of these tunes is well served by the stripped-down presentation they're given here, with Johnston accompanied just by his own acoustic guitar. Guitarist Mark Spencer (then of the Blood Oranges) steps up to fill out the sound for the second half of the show, which is culled from his prior albums for Elektra, except for an inspired cover of Jimmy Webb's "Wichita Lineman." The understated humor and playful eccentricity of Johnston's earlier work gets a bit lost in this performance; the spare performances bring out the darker undercurrents of these songs, and the Blue Days Black Nights material was already noticeably more downbeat than most of his body of work. However, there's a warmth and intimacy in this music that's genuinely affecting, and the Johnston/Spencer combo quietly reaches impressive heights on "This Perfect World," "Western Sky," and "Wichita Lineman." This is a warts-and-all soundboard recording (during "Underwater Life," Johnston pauses to ask the audience if they can hear his guitar, since he can't), but given the source the sound quality is quite good, and this is a worthy document of a talented and underappreciated performer in his element on-stage.

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