As most of his fans know, Jesse Winchester was born and raised in Louisiana, but he moved to Canada in 1967 as an exile of conscience rather that serve with the United States military in Vietnam. Though Winchester enjoyed a successful career while in Canada, his circumstances prevented him from performing in America even though his recordings had earned him a loyal audience there. In 1977, President Jimmy Carter established an amnesty for Vietnam-era draft resisters, and Winchester was finally able to perform his music in the United States again. This album, drawn from a Philadelphia show recorded for later radio broadcast (complete with periodic interjections from an announcer), finds Winchester in fine fettle as he performs an energetic set for an enthusiastic crowd. Backed by a tight four-piece band of Canadian pickers, Winchester's blend of Southern élan, Northern introspection, a rocker's passion for good times, and a folkie's sense of emotional boundaries rarely registered on plastic quite as well as it does here. When Winchester sings "I want to live with my feet in Dixie and my head in the cool, cool North" in the song "Nothing But a Breeze," it's at a moment where he was able to do just that for the first time in ten years, and if the timing doesn't directly affect the music, it's hard to believe it didn't register with him when you hear the joy and force in his voice, which informs even the quietest and most contemplative numbers. Originally released as a promo-only disc in 1977, Live at the Bijou Cafe has developed a strong reputation among Winchester's fans over the years, and with good reason -- it documents a superb performance from a gifted if uneven artist, and serves as a great listen for fans and a solid introduction for beginners.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming