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For the Last Time: Live from the Astrodome ()

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The "For the Last Time" in the title does not refer to the last concert George Strait ever gave, nor does this suggest that this is a farewell to live albums; in fact, it's the first live album Strait has ever released. The "last time" refers to the last concert of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo ever given in the Houston Astrodome, a show that Strait headlined, breaking records by drawing 68,266 people, the largest audience the venue ever saw (for the record, he top-lined the first Livestock Show at its new home, Reliant Stadium). This was a big, big occasion -- highlighted by an on-stage guest spot by former President George Herbert Walker Bush, where number 41 proclaimed that "everyone in Texas loves him and everyone across this country loves his music" -- so it makes perfect sense that it would be commemorated with an audio souvenir, and For the Last Time isn't bad at all on those terms. Its biggest problem is its nature: it captures a big-stage, big-sound production, where it's about the spectacle as much as the music, so when it's presented as a CD, it's not as exciting as the concert, nor is it as exciting as many of his straight studio records. It's professional, well-performed, and enjoyable without being dynamic, surprising, or lively; it never feels as lived-in or real as the best of Strait's music. Part of the reason for that is the song selection, which is heavy on ballads and mid-tempo numbers, de-emphasizing harder country and Western swing. When they do go for purer country, such as on the death-of-country-music lament "Murder on Music Row," it sounds great, but this is not about gritty country, this is a soundtrack to spectacle. It's fine as that, but it's not the great live George Strait album it could have been. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi Hide synopsis

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