What's in a name? When he started out in his native Maine, David Mallett used the more formal version of his first name, but after he began working out of Nashville, he changed to the more casual "Dave," which is how his name appears on his albums released between 1986 and 1995. Now he has returned to Maine and to calling himself "David." He has also returned to Flying Fish Records (now an imprint of Rounder rather than an independent label itself) after a two-album sojourn at Vanguard Records, and with Parallel Lives he presents his first live album in the conventional sense. His 1981 album Hard Light was recorded live, but it consisted entirely of songs he had not recorded on his studio albums. Parallel Lives, on the other hand, has the sort of "greatest hits in concert" format more typical of live albums. It was recorded at a club in New Hampshire with Mallett and his acoustic guitar accompanied only by another guitarist, Steven Sheehan, and a bassist, Mike Burd. It is easy to imagine that this is a typical live performance for the veteran folkie, during which he plays his best-known composition, "Garden Song," and encourages his audience to sing along; includes songs that have earned covers by other artists, such as "Summer of My Dreams," which was recorded by Kathy Mattea; features a few of the songs he co-wrote in Nashville; and introduces some new material. Those Nashville co-writes actually work the least well, if only because they sound like what they are, even in this context with these simple arrangements. Mallett writes highly lyrical songs full of nature imagery and nuance, but "Like This" (aka "It Wasn't Supposed to Be Like This") and "Daddy's Oldsmobile," both co-written by Hal Ketchum, are direct and carefully structured, yet without much of Mallett's personal stamp. When Mallett isn't waxing eloquent about the natural world, he is singing highly personal, detailed portraits of real people such as "Phil Brown," a painter he knew in his youth, and "My Old Man." Both songs inspire lengthy and interesting spoken introductions. The new songs, such as the opener, "I Hate to See This Town Go Down," and the closer, "Parallel Lives," return to Mallett's more familiar persona, one he was suppressing somewhat during his Nashville years. They evoke a warm response from a small, attentive New England audience that might as well be saying, "Welcome home, David."
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann