Live: The Storyteller
Aimless Records

As anyone who’s ever seen him play live can attest to, Todd Snider backs his remarkable songwriting with a great — and funny — stage presence. A lot of that magic is built right into his songs and can be heard on his studio albums, but to get the full package, you really have to be there. Or you need the next best thing: The Storyteller, featuring two CDs-worth of charming, humble and humorous Todd Snider at his live best. It’s his second official live album, and picks up where 2003’s Near Truths and Hotel Rooms left off, with several songs from his most recent studio albums, The Excitement Plan, The Devil You Know, East Nashville Skyline and Peace Queer.

As a young songwriter, I study Snider just like he studied artists like Kris Kristofferson and Jerry Jeff Walker. I once watched him make a set list, just to see how he did it, and I thought it was cool how he would write down a few songs and then jot down the title to one of his stories that he would tell in-between the songs. The track list on The Storyteller reads the same way: along with familiar songs like “Stuck on the Corner,” “Looking for a Job,” “Conservative Christian, Right-Wing Republican, Straight, White, American Males” and his already classic “The Ballad of the Kingsmen,” you’ll also find titles like “Bill Elliott Story” and “Mushroom Story.” If you’ve seen as many Snider shows as I have, you might know those stories by heart as well as you know the songs — and you’ll be thrilled to have them all on album. Like material by the best comedians, Snider’s “bits” just seem to get funnier and funnier the more times you hear them. My personal favorite is the epic “KK Rider Story,” in which Snider recalls being in the right place and the right time to step up to the mic and sing Rusty Wier’s “Don’t It Make You Wanna Dance.”

Snider explains in his “Eighteen Minutes Speech” that he makes up these songs because they rhyme, and he may share some of his opinions with you, but rest assured, “I didn’t come down here to change your mind about anything, but to ease my own mind about everything.” He cleverly breaks into “Tension” after the speech, an easy going tune with intelligent commentary on the “War on Drugs.” It’s an older tune, but timeless and still (unfortunately) very relevant.

I have no idea how many people were at this particular performance (or performances); there’s no mention of where the songs were recorded anywhere in the liner notes or on the packaging. So for all I know, Snider could have been playing for 10,000 people. But the feel of the album is still wonderfully intimate.

At one point, he even says to the audience, “I feel like I know so many of you.” And it’s an intimacy you feel even when Snider and his band — Great American Taxi — really rock out, as they do here a lot, with really tasty instrumentation and a tremendous group dynamic. Producers Elvis Hicks, Magnum D.U.I. and Eric McConnell truly captured the essence and energy of a perfect Todd Snider show on tape. So whether you’re a seasoned Sniderhead (Nervous Wreck?) like me, or you’ve never heard Snider and want to know what all the fuss is about, The Storyteller will hit the spot. — HALLEYANNA FINLAY