Steve Earle wasn't yet one of the most respected, intelligent, and controversial voices in Nashville when he stepped on-stage for a taping of the long-running public television series Austin City Limits in the fall of 1986 -- back then, he was a promising newcomer who was touring behind his well-received debut album, Guitar Town, and was recording the follow-up in fits and starts when he had downtime from the road. Live from Austin TX, part of a series of CD and DVD releases from the rich Austin City Limits archive, captures Earle when his confidence and stage smarts were not quite what they would be later on, and though there are more than a few great songs in this set, many of the tunes that would become cornerstones of his later live show (especially the mature work from his post-"vacation in the ghetto" period) haven't been written yet, and frankly this edition of the Dukes wasn't the strongest he would ever have. But Earle's energy and enthusiasm is well in evidence on this set, his voice is in solid shape, and the performance builds up a solid head of steam as it chugs through a solid 17-song set. Live from Austin TX is hardly the definitive Steve Earle live album, but it's a fine snapshot of a major artist as he was first getting accustomed to the spotlight, and the talent, swagger, and conscience that would mark his best known work are all in evidence here, even if they haven't yet reached sharp focus.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming