Steve Earle/Townes Van Zandt/Guy Clark Together At The Bluebird Cafe

While releasing this album just after its 1995 recording would have made it a passing curiosity, the ensuing six years have added much perspective to this casual gathering of friends to benefit a Nashville charity. Earle, then just beginning to shed his hell-raising image, has since become an Americana renaissance man; Van Zandt left this world soon after, and his legacy has expectedly verged on iconic. Does that make this album more important? Probably not, since only Clark seems to be anywhere close to top form. When he takes the mic on "The Cape," "Randall Knife" and "Dublin Blues," the atmosphere quickly shifts to hearing a master storyteller while sitting around a Texas campfire. Perhaps it's the familiarity of Earle's selections, they include "My Old Friend The Blues," "I Ain't Ever Satisfied" and "Copperhead Road," and the hacking guitar tone, but he has sounded better elsewhere. In Van Zandt's case, the burden of what would soon take his life is plainly evident, and the less said about his performance the better, except for the desolation the burden lends to "A Song For," which has to rank among one of his most heart-wrenching renditions. So perhaps the final verdict is this album remains a curiosity, essential only to those who have always sought to hear these three men, whose careers are inextricably linked, together for one night on the same stage. (Koch)