In a 1996 concert promoting her slickly produced major-label record 10 Cent Wings, Jonatha Brooke told her audience, "It's not folk music anymore." Two years later, Brooke shrugged off the album's disappointing commercial showing and the dissolution of her relationship with MCA, formed her own record company, and released Live. It was folk music again, and her audience responded. The live set quickly sold more copies by mail order than 10 Cent Wings had sold in stores. Brooke's longtime producer, Alain Mallet, is clearly an innovator, but he has a tendency to tinker a bit too much with the arrangements (e.g., the Latin jazz flourishes of The Angel in the House, the glossy pop veneer of 10 Cent Wings). This live CD gives fans the chance to hear Brooke's prodigious songwriting talents almost unadorned. The stripped-down arrangements provide a showcase for her exquisite melodies, inventive alternative tunings, complicated technique, and gorgeously dissonant harmonies. The album is also an excellent retrospective of the first ten years of Brooke's career. Some of the best tracks reach back to her days as the songwriting half of the Boston folk duo the Story. Background singer and keyboardist Ingrid Graudins proves more than adequate as a substitute for Jennifer Kimball, blending beautifully with Brooke on "Always," "At the Still Point," and "In the Gloaming." In fact, the record might have benefited from even more use of Graudins (perhaps including samples of the witty badinage between the two singers that often enlivens Brooke's concerts). It could also have stood to be a little more sparing in its use of Gerry Leonard's sometimes intrusive ambient guitar. Nevertheless, Live is a triumph to be savored.
AllMusic Review by Evan Cater