Todd Snider,
Live: Near Truths & Hotel Rooms
(Oh Boy, 2003)

Todd Snider's latest revisits the eternal question of just what live albums are for. Besides, I mean, to serve the obvious mercenary purpose of providing "product" -- as they say in the show business -- to pick up in the immediate afterglow of a concert so that you will always be reminded of what a good time you had. But if you weren't there and the immutable laws of time's passing will never put you back there, is there any reason -- and I mean whatever -- to separate yourself from your hard-earned?

I guess live albums don't have to be lifeless after the first spin. In my folk listening, my player more than once has spun Ian Tyson's Live at Longview (Vanguard, 2002), and each time I have experienced no notable decline in pleasure. Another veteran, James Talley, has a fine live one, unreleased as of this writing, from a European tour. There must have been some others over the years that don't come to mind off the top of the head, as Yogi Berra might put it. Well, come to think of it, there's Flatt & Scruggs at Carnegie Hall: The Complete Concert (Koch reissue, 1998), which would be enjoyable if not for the presumably besotted bozo who can't stop himself from screaming at each available interval without exception, "Martha White! Martha White!" Can't they edit out that sort of thing these days?

You won't listen to this one more than once. Snider is an amiable singer-songwriter who will remind you, in the present circumstance at least, of John Prine, though Snider sings marginally better and writes not quite so memorably. Like Prine (on whose label Snider records), he is funny. You can't not laugh during "Talking Seattle Grunge Rock Blues," perhaps Snider's most famous song, "D.B. Cooper" (also reincarnated on the present disc) being the next. The latter evokes folk tradition's inexplicable affection for criminals, but it's no "Jesse James" or "Pretty Boy Floyd" or "Staggerlee," though it's not too bad. My favorite Snider song, the cliche-untainted traveling musician's anthem "New Connection," also the title tune of his last studio recording (released in 2002), isn't here. Nothing this time around is that good by a long, short or medium shot.

Lots of talk, though. Shaggy-dog stories that will either amuse you or lead you, if you're of charitable disposition, to the conclusion that maybe you had to be there. But why is "Beer Run" here twice? And what's this about being a fan of Jerry Jeff Walker?

- Rambles
written by Jerome Clark
published 8 November 2003



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