Stacey Earle / Mark Stuart

Must Be Live

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Stacey Earle whispered onto the scene after singing backup for her brother, the notoriously cranky yet kindhearted, politically incorrect outlaw poet Steve Earle. She released two solo records, both produced by husband and musical compatriot Mark Stuart. And while those records were both charming and revealed Earle's natural talent as a songwriter, they felt just a tiny bit stiff in execution. Here is the remedy. Must Be Live is a double album of Stacey Earle and Mark Stuart recorded from some 40 or 50 concerts, with the tracks chosen by Stuart for musical spirit rather than musical perfection. The end result is an accurate -- more or less -- portrait of the depth, dimension, and charm of this pair working their magic in front of audiences. There is a real depth of commitment the listener can feel -- not only to the material, but also from the performers to one another. If their marriage works as wonderfully as their musical partnership, it must have been made in heaven. Listen to the ache of longing in Earle's voice on "Is It Enough," or the depth of hurt in "White Lies," or Stuart's ringing, supportive guitar lines on "Gonna Love Me Someday." In fact, this may be the first time most folks will ever get to experience Stacey Earle's quirky, infectious musical personality on a recording. With Stuart playing solidly behind her and shoring up her gorgeous, reedy vocals with his own slightly raspy harmonies, Earle opens the floodgates of the burning, bleeding heart in her songs. While there isn't a weak moment on either disc, it's important for the sake of esthetics to play the thing -- at least the first time -- in sequence, to get the full picture of a pair of singer/songwriters whom everybody knew was gifted, but few knew how much.

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