"I don't know if you folks have ever been to my website," says Rod MacDonald to his audience at the folk club the Outpost in the Burbs in Montclair, NY, "but one of the things I try to do...is archive old recordings and put 'em out on bootleg tapes and CDs. Some of 'em sound pretty bad, but they're reasonably good versions of the songs, or in some cases they're the only version of the song." This album is one of those "bootleg" CDs available only on www.rodmacdonald.net, but it isn't an old recording that's been archived; it doesn't sound bad; and, for the most part, it contains songs available (or soon to be) on MacDonald's regular albums. Recorded November 7, 2003, this is a characteristic solo show by MacDonald, who accompanies himself on acoustic guitar and harmonica as he sings in his flexible tenor. The material includes "Dr. Gachet," a song about a Van Gogh painting that disappeared from public view into the possession of a private collector; "You Who Sleep Beside Me," a love song; "My Neighbors in Delray," a reflection on the September 11 bombers; and "For the Good of America," a protest song tracing government deception through the decades. All four appear on MacDonald's most recent regular album, 2002's Recognition. "Seven Days," a song about a traveler's longing for home, is from the 1999 album Into the Blue. "Blues for the River," "Dear Grandfather," "American Jerusalem," "White Buffalo," and "A Sailor's Prayer" all come from MacDonald's first two albums, No Commercial Traffic and White Buffalo, released in the mid-'80s, and can be thought of as constituting the "greatest-hits" section of the show. That leaves five songs new to the singer/songwriter's repertoire. Three of these would turn up on his next regular studio album, A Tale of Two Americas: "Why I Love America," facetiously sung in the character of Arnold Schwarzenegger, would be retitled "The Governator"; "Terror" is another protest song examining the reduction in civil rights in America in the wake of September 11; and "I Am Bob Dylan" comments on celebrity and, apparently, people's tendency to mistake MacDonald for his major influence (must be the harmonica rack). The other two fit MacDonald's goal for his own bootleg series: "Sleeping on the Beach" is a personal rumination from an unsettled time in the songwriter's life, while "Open Up Your World" (also heard on the archival album Guilty Pleasures) is a good love song. Add it all up, and it's a pretty typical night in MacDonald's concert schedule, with songs ranging from the personal to the political, always melodic, well written, and winningly sung and played. The fans for whom this release is intended will find it a good souvenir of the last MacDonald show they saw, but it might also serve to introduce neophytes to some of his better-known songs.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann