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• Todd Snider

There's nothing like a live CD to show the mettle and soul of a songwriter. It's somebody allegedly in the business of laying their soul bare in the process of doing just that in front of a crowd. The long and (especially) short of their chops are exposed, and in certain cases you really get a look at the artist's personality. (Or at least the short version of that, their persona. Either or both can be interesting.)

In Near Truths and Hotel Rooms, you get to see what a loveable hoot Todd Snider is, and that's why the audience is going bananas. The show starts with the classic Dean Martin recording of "That's Amore" that segues into Todd picking his guitar and picking up the song where it left off…

His modern hippie slacker take on being a folksinger is really entertaining, because the cat can spin a yarn. He does several talking blues (a dormant art form), including the memorable "Statistician's Blues" and the bizarre "Talking Seattle Grunge Rock Blues." In the latter, his MTV-bound band that won the hearts of their rebellious crowd by refusing to play their songs gets edged out by a band that refused to even form.

Listening to this album, I thought of another live singer songwriter record, last year's Live Songs & Stories by David Wilcox (you can hear clips from that on Listen page #10). Although it's equally entertaining, these discs represent two sides of the spectrum. The rap-port between songs is an essential component of each record, every bit as important as the songs. Wilcox's impeccably scripted patter comes off like ironic comedy for the self help crowd, where Snider's rants come off more like screwball barroom humor.

There are some serious and touching songs, too, like "Waco Moon" (started after hearing about the tragic overdose of Eddie Shaver) and "Lonely Girl." I like them all, and the raps in between are pretty damn great. The classic "Beer Run" gets cut twice on this record, one version is live on the Bob and Tom morning radio show.

One of the great knucklehead folksingers of our time. Get it, here. •FG

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