Stacey Earle and Mark Stuart Must Be Live

It’s taken Steve’s sister a little longer to establish herself as a singer/songwriter in her own right, but the playful innocence of much of her music remains irresistible. It’s even more so on this double live collection, featuring only she and husband Stuart on acoustic guitars. There’s nothing fancy about the soundboard-quality recordings, a definite strike against the album as a whole, but once captivated by Earle’s heartfelt musings on life and love, and her whimsical Nancy Griffith-like singing, Must Be Live becomes a pleasure to wade through. Anyone looking for ruminations on the dark side of love had best look elsewhere though; Earle’s down-home optimism flows out of almost every song. Yet, she continually skirts the edge of sentimentality, instead presenting songs like "Wedding Day” and "Weekend Runaways” in simple, everyday terms. Her charm is also on full display during the many between-song chats with the audience, a skill that clearly runs in her family. This album may not be the best representation of what Earle is capable of, but for anyone who has enjoyed her live shows, it’s a worthwhile souvenir, a fact that, unfortunately for non-fans, too many live albums are nowadays. (Evolver)