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The live album as vanishing artifact

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Live albums released in 2020 carry the unexpected weight of archiving an era that may never fully return. The Ruthie Foster Big Band is doubly unique in its Live at the Paramount (Blue Corn Music), because of the rarity of big bands in the 21st century. This impressive set may rely on a few standards like “Mack the Knife,” but when Foster dishes up a radical remake of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire,” it’s evident how special this album is.

Monkees fans may find The Mike & Micky Show (Rhino) equally unique, even if the voices of Davy Jones and Peter Tork can never be replaced. Nesmith and Dolenz step through 25 Monkees songs in this 2019 show, including relative rarities like “The Door Into Summer.” HD videos on YouTube give a flavor of the audio album.

Two artists are offering streaming/download-only live albums on Bandcamp to financially assist their touring bands. Father John Misty’s Off-Key in Hamburg (Sub-Pop) arguably packs more wallop than either of his limited-edition vinyl live albums, including newer works like “Total Entertainment Forever” alongside classics like “Hollywood Forever Cemetery.” Kentucky folkie Joan Shelley offers a set in Live at the Bomhard Louisville (No Quarter) that is similar to her September 2019 show at Lulu’s, albeit with special guests sitting in, such as Bonnie Prince Billy.

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