Sad Songs Happily Played
Atlas Aurora

On the short list of live albums recorded without the artist’s knowledge, Drew Kennedy’s Sad Songs Happily Played proves what most fans would suspect: he’s on his best behavior even when he doesn’t know the tape is rolling. Taped at an intimate Texas gig last fall, this winning two-disc set showcases the New Braunfels-based troubadour’s comfortable grace on the guitar and his pliant, immediately recognizable twang holding together an assortment of songs from his recent spate of excellent studio albums. Especially well-represented is 2013’s Wide Listener, and the significance of the material’s freshness is evident in the palpable energy that leavens the unhurried, introspective pace of the songs. An appealingly regular guy that just happens to be a little more well-travelled and critically respected than most of the rest of us, Kennedy’s humorous tales of mistaken-identity drug busts, buying dead plants with his wife, and being repeatedly mistaken for Josh Grider are the seasoning on a generously hearty helping of songs like “Good Carpentry,” “Age & Color,” and the particularly tender “Vapor Trails.” Staking out a reliable sweet spot between the gritty observations of Guy Clark and the dreamier pop sensibilities of Jackson Browne, Kennedy’s recent catalog is well worth a rehash for existing fans and a new look for the uninitiated. — MIKE ETHAN MESSICK

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