As a high school dropout and teen mother who began her musical career in her late thirties (and in the shadow of her brother, Steve), Stacey Earle has plenty to write songs about. Most often likened to Nanci Griffith, her vulnerable, little-girl voice has a tell-it-like-it-is survivor's edge. And although her soprano Texas twang is well-equipped for whining and wailing, Earle's homespun Folk/Country style is refreshingly light-hearted and eager to please. As Earle's musical/marital partner of nearly ten years, Mark Stuart has mastered the art of offsetting Earle's spontaneity. His sometimes bluesy bass-lines and backup vocals give much-needed grounding to Earle's instinct-riding vocal flights and her giddy, Ani-DiFranco-minus-the-angst, storytelling spasms. Compiled from years of touring together, the new live album, Must Be Live, showcases the versatility of the couple's musical chemistry, from traces of acoustic Blues in "Cried My Heart Out" to the unabashedly southern "Show Me How" to the almost Spanish-ish guitar melodies woven throughout. After missing Stacey Earle's first two albums, Must Be Live is an intimate introduction to someone who may become a regular accomplice to my barefoot Sunday morning cup of coffee.
Saturday at the Southgate House.
— EMILY LIEB