Steve Earle first appeared on the long-running roots-music television showcase Austin City Limits in 1986, as his debut album Guitar Town was riding the charts. He returned to their stage in 2000, and in many respects it seems like a lot more than 15 years separates the two performances; New West Records released the 1986 appearance on CD as DVD in 2004 in their Live from Austin, TX series, while the 2000 set has been given its own release in 2008. The passage of time is certainly apparent in Earle's voice, and it's not until the third track, "Another Town," that his vocals sound like they've truly warmed up, but it's the material and the musical approach that really tell the story on this disc. Only three of the 15 tracks on Live from Austin, TX date back to Earle's first three albums before his drug habit took him out of circulation, and in this performance, Earle isn't afraid to tackle some unapologetically difficult material, such as "The Unrepentant" and "Taneytown," and even the lighter numbers, such as "Hard-Core Troubadour" and "More Than I Can Do" cut deeper emotionally than the guy who sang "Guitar Town" was willing to go in 1986. And having realized that the Nashville establishment was pretty much done with him, for this set Earle pairs himself with a rough and ready rock & roll band, featuring Eric "Roscoe" Ambel on guitar, Kelly Looney on bass and Will Rigby on drums. They lay down plenty of fire on "Someday," "Copperhead Road," and "The Devil's Right Hand" that serves the songs well, while offering a lighter but resonant touch on "Telephone Road" and "Steve's Last Ramble." While the mix on this disc doesn't always flatter the guitars, the performance is lean and insistent, and the long introduction to "Christmas in Washington" makes clear that in the 21st century, Earle isn't afraid to say or sing what's in his heart and on his mind, and it's good that two of the man's many musical facets are represented in this series.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming