So close to being great...,
This review is from: Lafayette (Audio CD)
I'm a huge fan of Ms. McKeown, and own all of her albums. I was excited beyond belief when I heard a live album was coming out, but 'Lafayette' did not live up to expectations in several key areas. She's got such amazing charisma on stage and creates stellar energy between herself and her audience, but you wouldn't know it from this album. One of her strengths on stage are the stories she tells about this or that song, and this was something I was really, really hoping to have captured on this album. No such luck. We get to hear Ms. McKeown speak twice on this record. Before 'James' she says, very quietly, "This is a song about my friend James," and once during "We Are More," she tells the audience to sing. Where's the stories? Personally, I think Ms. McKeown gives a better live show than Dar Williams, but Dar's "Out There Live" album is far and away better at capturing the energy and feel of a show than "Lafayette." If the point of a live album is to capture that feeling, what it's like to spend an hour or so in the dark in the presence of a true artist, "Lafayette" falls flat.
Second, I haven't had the chance to hear Ms. McKeown tour with horns before and I'm not sure all of the songs that get a brass-makeover on this album needed it. I believe you shouldn't do something just because you can, and that's what a couple of the tracks felt like to me - particularly "We Are More."
That being said, this album is worth buying simply for a live version of "Blackbirds," which has undergone so much change since its inclusion on Distillation that you can actually hear in this one song the artistic journey McKeown has taken between then and now. I think it's great that she keeps some of the old music in rotation, and also that she's constantly revising and updating it. I mean, the Indigo Girls will always, always have to play Closer to Fine...but it sounds the same today as it did in 1980-whatever-the-year-was. Oh, and also, we get to hear Ms. McKeown announce herself, which means officially the confusion about just how to pronounce that last name is put to rest. Melissa Ferrick was right (rhymes with phone).
If McKeown ever decides to join the bandwagon and put out a DVD (Dar did it, Ferrick did it, Tegan & Sara did it twice...) I'll be first in line to buy it (figuratively speaking; these Boston women have no love for us west coasties) but I hope she'll have the wisdom to capture a whole concert experience and not just cut-and-paste the songs in video format with no context.
All in all? Buy it, you'll like it. But don't expect magic.