Steve Earle’s new ‘Outlaw’ album among his best yet
“Gotta keep rockin’ why I still can
I gotta two pack habit and a motel tan.”
— Steve Earle, “Guitar Town”
I have been a fan of Steve Earle’s music since I first heard that song from the album of the same name in 1986, two years before we opened Triple Play. I purchased it on LP originally and thought it was great. “Guitar Town,” “Someday,” “Little Rock N Roller” and “Good Ol’ Boy” are still some of my very favorite songs.
Even though I love Earle’s music, I am not a fan of all of it. I could say the same about a lot of musicians, including two of my very favorites, Neil Young and Van Morrison. Earle had a streak of 11 excellent releases in 15 years, including “Exit O,” “Copperhead Road,” “Train a Comin,’” “I Feel Alright,” “El Corazon,” “The Mountain” and “Trancendental Blues.” In 2001 Earle, along with the late Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark, released the instant classic “Together At the Bluebird Café.” It’s still one of my favorite live records. It has been hit-and-miss for Earle for the past 15 years, as he has continued to record. His 2009 tribute to his hero Townes Van Zandt, aptly titled “Townes,” — as well as “The “Low Highway” and “Terraplane” — are excellent.
Earle’s great new album with his band, the Dukes, is called “So You Wanna Be An Outlaw.” Out last week, it is my favorite by him since “Transcendental Blues” for several reasons. It combines the raw country sound of “Guitar Town” with the rock and roll attitude of “Trancendental Blues” into a seamless blend of irresistible “outlaw country.” It features some of Earle’s strongest songwriting in years and is a concept LP like the Eagles “Desperado,” but more modern day.
The album opens with the title track that will make you instantly think of “Guitar Town” with its moving-down-the-road rhythm. “Lookin’ For A Woman” won’t change the mood with its pedal steel and irresistible chorus. It is, however, a more optimistic song than its predecessor. “News From Colorado” is one of my favorites, of course. It is an acoustic guitar-driven, bittersweet tune with a haunting steel guitar and a weeping violin with these lyrics:
“Sunlight slid right through the blinds that were carefully pulled down
Drive me from my dreaming and I woke up on the ground
The phone’s ringing by my head just like I knew it would
News from Colorado’s never good.”
“If Mama Coulda Seen Me” is a hot little rocking country tune that is right in Earle’s wheelhouse. He and the Dukes perform it flawlessly.
“If my mama could have seen me in this prison
She’d have cried but she can’t
She’d want to know if I’m learning my lesson
I’m alive but I ain’t.”
“Fixin’ to Die” is a haunting rock-and-roll number that addresses the title with the perfect format for the song’s eerie message. It reminds me of something from “Copperhead Road.” “This is How It Ends” is a duet with Miranda Lambert that addresses the breakup of a doomed relationship.
“The Girl On the Mountain” and “You Broke My Heart” both address the relationship lost on the previous song.
“Walking In LA” shows the “outlaw” to be down on his luck with no one seeming to care.
“Sunset Highway” is an updated version of “Someday”. This time, it is an outlaw instead of a fresh-faced kid, as the main character looks to move on down the road. “Goodbye Michelangelo” closes the album as the “outlaw” watches his friend meet their fate. This is in my top three as far Steve Earle albums go. It’s right up there with “Trancendental Blues” and “Guitar Town.”