One rarely gets the opportunity to re-approach a classic album such as Steve Earle's "Guitar Town" with fresh ears. But that's exactly what this CD and DVD provide with their looks at Earle's 1986 Austin City Limits appearance, expanded from the 30-minute television edit to the full hour performance. Riding the crest of his landmark debut, and with half of his follow-up, "Exit 0," in his hip-pocket, Earle lights up the stage with a giddy passion fueled by his incredible initial cache of material.
Listeners who've worn out their original vinyl will be renewed by the sparkle Earle brings to the stage. Dressed in a white t-shirt and jeans, he looks the role of the dreamers who populate his songs, cruising their pickups and homemade muscle cars through small-town America. This first blush of performing bravado winds the clock back on an album that's become an Americana staple: Earle performs everything from "Guitar Town" save "Someday" and works through half of its follow-up. His band translates the songs to stage with few changes, roughing up a few of the album's tidy edges with live vitality.
Whether unwinding the freedom of "Guitar Town" or wallowing in the emotional scars of "Little Rock & Roller," Earle can't help beam with the pride he has in his songs. The closing "I Love You Too Much" and encore of "San Antonio Girl" find the singer wringing every last drop of enjoyment out of his time on stage. Save for a cover of Bruce Springsteen's "State Trooper" Earle "made all these songs up," and a more compelling collection of vignettes and characters would be hard to find.