Solo performer: Todd Snider.
Audio Mixer: Bob Bullock.
Recording information: The Ark, Ann Arbor, MI; The Belcourt Theater, Nashville, TN; The Bob And Tom Show, Indianapolis, IN; The Boulder Theater, Boulder, CO; The Kentucky Theater, Lexington, KY; The Kuumbwa Jazz Center, Santa Cruz, CA; The Neighborhood Theater, Charlotte, NC.
Photographers: Brad Barnes; Todd Barnes.
Todd Snider's first live album, on which he accompanies himself on guitar and harmonica in folky style, conveys a stage personality only glimpsed in the more humorous of his songs on his previous five studio recordings. Snider performs his share of sensitive, reflective tunes, but they are overwhelmed by the funny ones and by his offbeat, spacy persona, which is equally laugh-provoking. Snider's similarity to John Prine, the head of his record label, is accentuated in songs like "I Can't Complain," which is full of cracked aphorisms and employs a fingerpicking style that seems borrowed from Prine. But elsewhere, Snider displays his own alcohol-drenched sense of humor, giving off a scatterbrained impression that sometimes recalls Arlo Guthrie, but is a bit less goofy (if equally wily) and a bit more like that of a drug casualty. "The Story of the Devil's Backbone Tavern," not a song but a lengthy introduction to a song called "The Ballad of the Devil's Backbone Tavern" (itself featuring a lot of talking), presents Snider's autobiography, which makes him sound like more of an inebriated good old boy than he could possibly be, but it is amusing. "Talking Seattle Grunge Rock Blues," which passes for his greatest hit, is dated by now, but still imaginative. Near Truths and Hotel Rooms may be closer to a comedy act than a concert, but if so, it's got most of the country comedians beat and assures that Snider has a career to fall back on if the music gig doesn't pan out. ~ William Ruhlmann