The Second Hand: Live at the Bugle Boy

Susan Gibson may not be the most prolific recording artist on the Texas singer-songwriter scene, having released just four albums in the last 12 years (and one of those, 2008’s New Dog, Old Tricks, made up of new recordings of her songs from her years co-fronting the Groobees.) But counting those Groobees years, she’s amassed a none-too-shabby catalog of durable and crowd-pleasing songs — not the least of which being a little number called “Wide Open Spaces” that helped the Dixie Chicks become one of the biggest country acts of the last 20 years (if not longer). Cull that catalog down to a tidy 16-song setlist made up of equal parts longtime fan favorites and what Gibson calls “remember these?” album tracks, and you’ve got the makings of a solid live album — her first — that also serves as an equally effective career retrospective. The Second Hand isn’t without its lulls (the rather aptly titled crawler “Stop the Bleeding” begs for a bar or bathroom break); but gems like “Cactus,” “Baby Teeth,” “Trophy Girl,” “Evergreen,” and the stubbornly optimistic “Best of You” offer proof that the “best of” Gibson does not begin and end with that one song everybody knows. Well, actually this set does begin with “Wide Open Spaces,” but that’s just a testament to her own confidence that smartly allows the terrific, previously unrecorded “The Second Hand” a chance to shine in the spotlight as the set’s main closing number (not counting the new studio version of her 2002 song “Chin Up” tacked on at the end and the unlisted bonus track of another new live song, “Just One More Thing, Mom.”) Gibson’s four-man backing band provides tasteful, unflashy support throughout, but her chosen venue — the Bugle Boy — deserves its star billing on the album cover for its impeccable acoustics. Every one of Gibson’s peers should seriously consider booking the La Grange, Texas, listening room for their own live albums, STAT. — RICHARD SKANSE