Nothing captures a band quite like a live album. It’s not as artistic or calculated as a studio album can be, but the raw emotion of a live performance can often add to an artist’s mythic lore. Like a studio album, there are several ways to record a live album.
One special night in front of a specific crowd. A collection of the best renditions over the course of a band at its’ best. An acoustic guitar pull amongst friends. Perhaps in front of a small crowd can become legendary enough that people claim to have been there can be just as magical as an energetic and fast-paced set in front of a sold-out arena.
As one could expect, Country and Americana are chalk full of different attempts at making the perfect live album. Some venues have even become notorious for their own collection of live recordings. For some artists, their live albums are better and truer representations of themselves than any studio album could dream of being. Others, it’s just a single aspect of their mark on music.
When at their best, they can capture a band, venue and era of a scene. Here are 25 of the greatest live albums in Country and Americana music.
Unlike most live albums, Eagles Live isn’t a single night or even from a small run of shows. The 15 tracks were recorded over the course of four years. While you may not feel intimacy or magic of a single night, Eagles Live more than makes up for it by including the very best versions of their storied catalog. Their cover of “Seven Bridges Road” remains one of the single best moments of their career.
Similiar Suggestions: Hell Freezes Over by Eagles, Live by Alison Krauss and Union Station
Top of the World Tour: Live is about what you should expect from the Dixie Chicks. They throw all their haymakers with spirited versions of “Goodbye Earl,” “There’s Your Trouble” and “Wide Open Spaces.” The inclusion of Bob Dylan‘s “Mississippi” may sound left field, but they make it their own. But it’s when they slow things down where they find the magic. “Cold Day in July” and “Landslide” are incredible. “Travelin’ Soldier” and “Top of the World” are that much more. Despite being a stadium record, they accomplish some semblance of intimacy.
Similiar Suggestions: Still the One: Live from Las Vegas by Shania Twain, Live by Tanya Tucker
Charley Pride‘s In Person may as well be a studio album. His vocals are that perfect throughout. Recorded one night at Panther Hall in Ft. Worth, Pride’s versions of “Cotton Fields” and “Six Days On the Road” are as good as you’ll ever hear. His sense of humor and stage banter is as captivating as his yodels on “Lovesick Blues.” Still, his rendition of “Kaw-Liga” is magical.
Similiar Suggestions: Live from the Wheeling Jamboree by Loretta Lynn, At the Ryman by Emmylou Harris
Ryan Adams‘ Live at Carnegie Hall is one of the most versatile acoustic albums listed. It’s easily digestible at a friendly 10-track length for casual fans, yet he still released a double-disc of the two night stand for diehards. At times, he rambles on with stories and songs he’s made up on the spot. He hits the mark on staples like “Oh My Sweet Carolina,” “Come Pick Me Up” and “Gimme Something Good” while also making room for songs from his back catalog. Songs like the jangling “New York, New York” and “Rats In The Wall” are reimagined by stark, stripped down renditions.
Similiar Suggestions: Live in Ft. Worth by David Ramirez, Live on Red Barn Radio I & II by Tyler Childers
Dwight Live is as straightforward a live album you’ll find on this list. It’s 17 of Dwight Yoakam‘s best hits performed live. It’s a meat and potatoes approach to the live recording. “Little Ways,” “Fast as You” and “Little Sister” rush through with an energetic force. He brings out longtime collaborator Buck Owens out for “Streets of Bakersfield.” Yoakam’s version of “Suspicious Minds” closes the album with a rousing outro that drags out in the best of ways.
Similiar Suggestions: Live at The Ryman by Marty Stuart, Alabama Live by Alabama
Live at Adair’s by Jack Ingram is an essential listening experience for any fan of early Texas Country. It finds the young Ingram in his element. Recorded in the heart of Dallas’ Deep Ellum, Ingram’s old stomping grounds, it’s comfortable and charming. Opening number “Attitude & Driving” sets the night up perfectly with its blend of rootsy country fiddle and driving punch.
Similiar Suggestions: Acoustic Motel by Jack Ingram, Acoustic: Live at Stubb’s by Reckless Kelly
Despite being a star-studded guitar pull of Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, Billy Joe Shaver and Kimmie Rhodes isn’t dominated by well-known songs by the five Texas songwriters. Other than Nelson’s “On the Road Again” and Shaver’s “You Can’t Beat Jesus Christ,” the other songs are relatively new or obscure. And that’s exactly what makes the record magical. No one would say anyone involved is in their prime, yet still, they deliver passionate and earnest performances. Rhodes and Nelson “Just One Love” is heartfelt. Even when Jennings fumbles through “I’d Have Been out of Jail,” it doesn’t feel out of place. The casualness of Live From Austin, TX is what makes it a treasure.
Similiar Suggestions: Unshaven: Live at Smith’s Olde Bar by Billy Joe Shaver, Outlaw: Celebrating the Music of Waylon Jennings by Various Artists
In Japan! finds Buck Owens at the top of his game. It’s a perfect representation of Owens’ Bakersfield Sound that features blazing guitar licks that cut through with a sharp edge. Owens’ vocals are drawn out, bold and never miss a beat. “Open Up Your Heart,” “Where Do the Good Times Go” “Second Fiddle” and “Adios, Farewell, Goodbye, Good Luck, So Long” are highlights where Owens share the spotlight with his backing band, The Buckaroos.
Similiar Suggestions: Buck Owens in London “Live” by Buck Owens, Live in London by Ricky Skaggs
In 1969, Merle Haggard was pound for pound, the best country singer in the world. Okie From Muskogee is a testament to that. For the first half, he runs through some of this most quintessential –“Mama Tried,” “Silver Wings” and “I’m a Lonesome Fugitive” for example. He makes room for some new material as well as paying homage to his hero, country music pioneer Jimmie Rodgers. When he’s awarded the key to Muskogee and made an honorary Oklahoman, it can feel awkward or unnecessary, but it just adds to the lure.
Similiar Suggestions: Rainbow Stew Live at Anaheim Stadium by Merle Haggard, Live at Billy Bob’s Texas by Gary Stewart
At this point, the Live and Loud at Billy Bob’s Texas series is as much of an institution as any. Cross Canadian Ragweed‘s live album there pretty much is the top of the mountain for the Ft. Worth honky tonk. It finds the Oklahoma band right as they’re beginning their prime. There’s a raw attitude in Cody Canada‘s raspy delivery. Songs like “Boys From Oklahoma” and “If I Were President” never made their way onto studio albums. It made their live shows that more special. The opening “Long Way Home” pushes down on the pedal and never lets off. It’s energetic, sweaty and on the cusp of becoming unhinged.
Similiar Suggestions: Live and Loud at The Wormy Dog by Cross Canadian Ragweed, Live at Billy Bob’s Texas by Pat Green
Joe Ely‘s Live Shots is a prime example of capturing a band at a specific time and place. It comes from a string of European dates where Ely was opening for The Clash. You can almost hear Ely strutting across stage through “Fingernails” and the Buddy Holly classic “Not Fade Away.” It’s not just Ely at his most rock and roll, though. Lubbock legends like Jesse “Guitar” Taylor, Ponty Bone and Lloyd Maines all have enough space to stretch their legs and make their mark on the legendary live record.
Similiar Suggestions: Shut Up and Die Like an Aviator by Steve Earle, No Two Alike by Butch Hancock
Despite being released in 1992, Kris Kristofferson‘s Live at The Philharmonic was recorded back in 1972. While Kristofferson is as strong a songwriter as any, it’s perhaps his covers of John Prine (“Late John Garfield Blues”), Merle Haggard, (“Okie from Muskogee”) and the appearances of Willie Nelson (for four songs), Rita Coolidge and a relatively then unknown, Larry Gatlin that are the most interesting aspects of the album. He changes Haggard’s right-wing anthem up, much to the amusement of the crowd. Still, make no mistakes, it’s a special performance by Kristofferson, capturing the grace of a single night.
Similiar Suggestions: Broken Freedom Song: Live From San Fransisco by Kris Kristofferson, Near Truths and Hotel Rooms by Todd Snider
When John Fullbright recorded Live at The Blue Door, he was still a relatively unknown songwriter outside his state of Oklahoma. This was still a year before he’d record his Grammy-nominated studio album debut From the Ground Up. The handful of songs that eventually were recorded for that as well, “Moving,” “All the Time in the World,” Satan & St. Paul” and “Jericho” all hint at what was to come. “High Road” is an intimate highlight of an already intimate album. As one would say, you could hear a pin drop. He ends the night with a version of Leonard Cohen‘s “Hallelujah” that’s as good as any you’ll ever hear on acoustic guitar.
Similiar Suggestions: Sad Songs Happily Played by Drew Kennedy, Adam Caroll Live by Adam Carroll
Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash teaming up for VH1 Storytellers was pretty early on in the series of records. Nelson and Cash exchange a handful of stories and jokes throughout the memorable night. You hear the genuine admiration for one another with a handful of “wows” after the other finishes a song. They aren’t cookie cutter copies straight from the studio album. The relaxed atmosphere provides a warm and welcoming area for the songs to breathe and take shape. Neither provides unknown insight on where some of their hits originated, but versions of “(Ghost) Riders In The Sky,” “Me and Paul,” “Always On My Mind” and “Folsom Prison Blues” are magic enough.
Similiar Suggestions: Live at Cibolo Creek Country Club by Ray Wylie Hubbard, We’re Usually A Lot Better Than This: Live by Darrell Scott and Tim O’Brien
Jason Isbell‘s Live from Alabama was recorded over the course of a two-night stand. When most people think of Isbell, they often think of his insightful, heartfelt lyricism first. While that’s certainly part of the mix, Live from Alabama displays Isbell and company as top-notch performers. There’s raw conviction in Isbell’s voice that’s seldom matched. Versions of “Goddamn Lonely Love,” “Alabama Pines” and especially on “Dress Blues” are as heartbreaking as you’ll ever hear from Isbell.
Similiar Suggestions: Live in Aught-Three by James McMurtry, Live at Terminal West by American Aquarium
George Strait‘s Live From the Astrodome is about as good as a stadium show can sound. The audience noise isn’t pumped in too much and it never sounds cold or too boring. Strait and company may as well be playing a honky-tonk dive bar. With a catalog as lengthy as Strait’s, naturally, they miss a handle of your favorites. Still, they check some of his most iconic off the list, “The Fireman,” “Love Without End, Amen” and “The Cowboy Rides Away” for example.
Similiar Suggestions: The Cowboy Rides Away: Live From AT&T Stadium by George Strait, Live at Texas Stadium by Alan Jackson, George Strait and Jimmy Buffett
Over the course of his career, Willie Nelson has recorded 14 live albums. For the most part, they’re all covering the same material in different dancehalls. Willie and Family Live is the highlight of those records. It’s expansive, covering nearly 30 tracks. At times, the band jam on at ridiculous lengths. But for the most part, it stays on the rails for prime Nelson versions of “Good Hearted Woman,” “Whiskey River” and “Georgia on My Mind.”
Similiar Suggestions: Willie Nelson & Friends: Live and Kickin’ by Willie Nelson, Live at Billy Bob’s Texas by Jason Boland & The Stragglers
Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark and Steve Earle may as well be sitting in your living room on Together at The Bluebird. It’s the best guitar pull one could imagine, three Texas troubadours exchanging stories and songs as if no one else was around. You can hear them trying to one-up each other as if there’s a friendly game or as if one’s keeping score. That sets a precedent for the record that keeps getting better and better. Earle captures as a dark desolation with “My Old Friend the Blues” and “I Ain’t Ever Satisfied.” Van Zandt’s “Pancho & Lefty” and “Tecumseh Valley” aren’t as great as the versions on Live At the Old Quarter, but are still cherished moments. But it’s Clark who shines brightest with versions of “The Randall Knife,” “Dublin Blues” and “The Cape.”
Similiar Suggestions: Chip & Ray Together Again For the First Time by Cody Canada & Mike McClure, Live in the Austin Outhouse by Blaze Foley
Recorded live in Luckenbach, Texas, Jerry Jeff Walker‘s Viva Terlingua is the height of where Outlaw Country and Progressive Country collide. It’s never snobby or pretentious. Walker and company do their best to welcome everyone to the party with raw, frisky renditions of “Gettin’ By,” “Sangria Wine” and Gary P. Nunn‘s “London Homesick Blues.” Somehow, they accomplish this all within the confines of nine songs.
Similiar Suggestions: Live at the Winstar World Casino by Mike & The Moonpies, Live at Gruene Hall by William Clark Green
Like Jerry Jeff before him, Robert Earl Keen really hit his stride as an artist with the live record. There’s an added element when Keen and company take the stage instead of the studio. No. 2 Live Dinner isn’t just capturing a single night though. It’s the culmination of a career’s worth of nights in honky-tonks with whiskey-soaked dance floors and amongst the people. Keen’s personality shines through with stage banter between songs as they serve up the best versions of Keen classics “The Road Goes On Forever,” “Merry Christmas From The Family” and “I’m Comin’ Home.”
Similiar Suggestions: The Live Album by Robert Earl Keen, Live Dinner Reunion by Robert Earl Keen
Double Live is as action-packed a live record as it gets. It may as well be a Garth Brooks greatest hits album. He doesn’t skimp on entertaining with the inclusion of the third verse of “Friends in Low Places” as well as an extended version of “The Thunder Rolls.” His cover of Bob Dylan’s “To Make You Feel My Love” and “The Dance” are warm and loving even with the crowd cheering or singing along.
Similiar Suggestions: Caught in the Act: Live by Eric Church, Pass the Jar by Zac Brown Band
1976’s Waylon Live find the outlaw legend right in the midst of his prime. Early versions are stellar on its own, but the expanded version released in 2003 really shines a light on just how great Waylon Jennings was in the mid-70s. He churns through hits like “Lonesome, On’ry and Mean,” “Amanda,” “Bob Wills is Still the King” and “Only Daddy That’ll Walk the Line.” Recorded over three nights, there’s plenty of lesser-known gems on the 42-song double disc.
Similiar Suggestions: Never Say Die: The Final Concert by Waylon Jennings, Live at Billy Bob’s Texas by Shooter Jennings
“Hello, I’m Johnny Cash” is possibly the greatest way to start a live record. He opens with “Folsom Prison Blues” and never really slows down from that point. As great as Cash sounds on the live recording, it’s probably more essential to Cash’s reputation as a leader of the Outlaw Movement. While he certainly was never an outlaw, Cash was able to relate, channel and understand an audience of prisoners, unlike anyone before or sense (perhaps only Haggard). His versions of “Cocaine Blues” and “25 Minutes to Go” are fundamental offerings. But it’s “Greystone Chapel,” “Give My Love to Rose” and “Green, Green Grass of Home” that display Cash’s commitment to understanding the psyche of those imprisoned. It’s humanizing.
Similar Suggestions: Johnny Cash at San Quentin by Johnny Cash, Johnny Cash at Madison Square Garden by Johnny Cash
When it comes to solo acoustic albums, nothing will ever beat Townes Van Zandt‘s Live At the Old Quarter. When push comes to shove, it sits at the top of Van Zandt’s discography too. It’s more personable and intimate than any of his studio albums and covers the highlights. Everyone knows Van Zandt isn’t the strongest of singers. But that makes you listen even closer to what he’s saying. Old Quarter captures him in rare form for a Texas essential.
Similiar Suggestions: A Gentle Evening with Townes Van Zandt by Townes Van Zandt, Keepers by Guy Clark
The Last Waltz is as expansive a live album as one can possibly get. The Band was already dead set on the idea of breaking up, but they all play as if they’re trying to prove that they could go on forever. A Who’s Who guest list make appearances. Everyone from Dr. John, Muddy Waters, Ronnie Hawkins, Eric Clapton, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Van Morrison and a host of others all come in for cameos. While the concert itself is impeccable, what makes The Last Waltz essential is how The Band treats the entire ordeal. It’s not just a live performance with some of their best friends joining in on the action. That’d be special in itself. But this is a documentary. It includes rehearsal versions, specific studio cuts and sketches. That shapes the overall storytelling in a way that’s head and shoulders above the rest.
Similiar Suggestions: Rock of Ages by The Band, Before the Flood by Bob Dylan & The Band