Like 2003’s Near Truths And Hotel Rooms, Live: The Storyteller highlights Todd Snider the stand-up comedian as much as Todd Snider the singer-songwriter. Like some wonderful amalgam of John Prine and Bill Hicks, Snider is less into straight punchlines than, as the title suggests, storytelling—rambling, charming storytelling that finds its apex here on an eight-minute tale involving a Memphis country singer named KK Rider, an unconscious woman, and two sleeveless .38 Special T-shirts. That story, which takes up an entire track, is used solely to set up a cover song.
It sounds indulgent, and is, but it’s also a vital part of the Todd Snider package. The Storyteller’s two discs lean a little toward Snider’s funnier latter-day material, padding it heavily with banter and stories, as well as a fair amount of the more earnest, tear-jerking fare he’s always snuck in between the laughs. “If you’ve never heard me play before, my name’s Todd Snider. I’ve been driving around this country for more than 15 years,” he says in a riff on his classic “Eighteen Minutes Speech,” early on in this collection. “If everything goes particularly well this evening, we can expect a 90-minute distraction from our impending doom.” It’s empowering to laugh at our pain, and Snider has become masterful at crafting just such distractions.