Steve Earle

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Guitar Town (1986), 7/10
Exit O (1987), 6/10
Copperhead Road (1988), 6/10
The Hard Way (1990), 6.5/10
Train A Comin' (1995), 5.5/10
I Feel Alright (1996), 6.5/10
El Corazon (1997), 6/10
Mountain (1999), 5/10
Transcendental Blues (2000), 7/10
Jerusalem (2002), 6.5/10
The Revolution Starts Now (2004), 4/10
Washington Square Serenade (2007), 5/10
I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive (2011), 5/10

Steve Earle grew up in Texas and was raised at the school of Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark. He wrote a couple of hits for other country musicians, When You Fall In Love (1982) and Mustang Wine, and finally debuted with the EP Pink and Black (LSI), that contains Nothin' But You.

Guitar Town (MCA, 1986) shocked the scene with a loud and frantic sound that mixed rockabilly, honky tonk and blues, and borrowed the emphasis from Bruce Springsteen's populist rock (Guitar Town, Goodbyes All's We've Got Left, My Old Friend The Blues).

Rhythm and guitars were even more prominent on Exit O (1987), whose highlights are Someday and I Ain't Ever Satisfied.

The next stage was Copperhead Road (1988), which is basically a rock and roll album. Copperhead Road, Johnny Come Lately and The Devil's Right Hand are also characterized by sinister and pessimistic lyrics that reflect his unhappy private life.

This progression culminated in The Hard Way (1990), a collection of strong compositions that run the gamut from the Warren Zevon-ian epic Justice In Ontario to the lullaby Close Your Eyes, from the poignant The Other Kind and Regular Guy to the bleak West Nashville Boogie and Esmeralda's Hollywood.

His next album was never released. Four marriages, a drug addiction and several arrests had taken a toll on his creativity.

Cleaned of the drug addition, Earle recorded an acoustic album, Train A Comin' (Winter Harvest, 1995), that contains stark numbers such as Can't Remember and Ben McCullough.

Earle staged an impressive come-back with I Feel Alright (Warner, 1996), a collection as good as The Hard Way. Besides the self-portraits of Hard Core Troubadour and I Feel Alright, Earle rocks (The Unrepentent) and weeps (Valentine's Day). The pathos is electrifying in the plaintive odes South Nashville Blues and Cocaine Cannot Kill My Pain.

While inferior, El Corazon (Warner, 1997) still has a handful of classics: N.Y.C., Telephone Road, Somewhere Out There, Taneytown There.

After Mountain (E Squared, 1999), a traditional bluegrass album, Earle matched any of his own achievements with Transcendental Blues (Artemis, 2000), a mature statement of an artist at the peak of his evocative powers (the celtic spices of The Galway Girl, the sensitive When I Fall). Transcendental Blues and Everyone's In Love With You emanate the ethereal and mystical quality of John Fahey's surreal folk.

Jerusalem (Artemis, 2002) is a metaphysical meditation on the state of the world after the September 11 terrorist attack (John Walker's Blues, Ashes to Ashes). This is simultaneously the most political work of Earle's career and his most daring sonic experiment (Conspiracy Theory is almost techno). Amerika v6.0 borders on Fugs-ian agit-prop (but borrows the riff from the Rolling Stones).

The Revolution Starts Now (Artemis, 2004) is the counterpart to the vastly superior Jerusalem: the action after the meditation. Unfortunately, it turns out to be mostly political propaganda in preparation for the highly-charged 2004 elections that opposed George W Bush and John Kerry. Earle is on the latter's side, but can't turn his political stance into a universal message the way a Bob Dylan could.

Relocating to New York, Earle devoted part of Washington Square Serenade (2007) to his new city (Tennessee Blues, Down Here Below, City of Immigrants), to love songs to his wife (Sparkle and Shine, Days Aren't Long Enough) and to sociopolitical issues (Jericho Road, Oxycontin Blues, Steve's Hammer). So the album is a triple serenade: to New York, to his wife and to the world. The arrangements are the barest of his career, except that Earle has converted to the drum-machine, perhaps a side-effect of being catapulted in the 21st-century urban music of New York.

Townes (2009) was an album of Townes Van Zandt covers.

I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive (2011) was a collaboration with producer T-Bone Burnett, whose polished sound leaves a stronger impression than the singer's compositions. These paint the middle-aged artist as a philosopher (God Is God), historical bard (The Gulf of Mexico) and agit-propagandist (Little Emperor), with diminishing musical returns. The one notable song is the swamp-rockabilly Waitin' on the Sky (with a stoic melody reminiscent of Creedence Clearwater Revival).

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