Steve Earle In The 21st Century

I don’t know the 21st century LPs of Steve Earle well enough to take them apart and see how they work. In the 10 years after “El Corazon” he released a bluegrass LP & 4 studio records. I was still listening but I wasn’t buying. It’s no reflection on the quality, it was just that I had plenty of his music and not enough time to listen to it all. This happened with a few artists. My collection had enough Van Morrison, Elvis Costello, R.E.M. (In those cases I was spending money on  “expanded” versions of LPs I already owned). I wanted to spread my wings and splash the cash on something a little different. Those two volumes of James Carr’s work on Goldwax would look pretty good on my shelf and sound even better. It is, though, no problem to find a fine and varied selection from Steve’s later period. So here we go…

Now, losing your heart to a black haired, blue eyed Galway Girl is like seeing Venice for the first time. It’s like dancing on the edge of a volcano. It is a wonderful thing…really. One Friday night it happened to a good friend of mine when he got lucky as we all sat at a pub table. It was Saturday afternoon before he fully regained his powers of speech. Steve’s affinity with Ireland had previously led him to record with the Pogues and to mention St Patrick’s Day in his UK concerts and expect us to cheer. (Paddy’s Night is OK but the Irish guys I hung with needed no extra incentive to drink to excess). He lived in Galway for a while and “Galway Girl” is a perfect collision of Texas and Ireland. Sharon Shannon is a peerless accordionist and the rest of the band seem to know their way around their instruments.

Now this is more my thing. A loud and proud polemic, the title track from the 2004 Grammy winning “The Revolution Starts Now”. Earle writing was becoming more engaged with social issues. His 2002 LP “Jerusalem” , dealing with the USA post 9/11, had instigated controversy, particularly the song “John Walker’s Blues”, written from the perspective of an American convert to Islam who had fought with the Taliban. Now I grew up expecting songwriters to engage with the world, to provoke and encourage debate. Here in the UK Steve Earle’s political views were no surprise. Personally I was more interested to hear what he had to say than Springsteen was singing about in “The Rising”. They were strange days indeed in the USA, even those country poppets the Ditzy Chicks caught a shitstorm for having the nerve to say what they thought about something.

“The Revolution Starts Now” is Steve and the Dukes at their rocking best, a fresh take on classic American music. The assertiveness of the lyrics makes me smile…debate this song and shove it. A revolution of hope over fear…in your own backyard, in your own hometown !

Socially conscious art can get a little worthy, even preachy. In 2009 Steve Earle recorded an LP of songs written by his friend and mentor Townes Van Zandt who died in 1997. Townes was never more than a cult artist and his world weary song stories have inspired much imitation. There was no-one better placed to create such a tribute and “Townes” is sensitive, respectful and interesting. There are live clips around of Steve’s take on the songs but “No Place To Fall” is such a great track. You know, maybe I have room for just one more Steve Earle LP in my collection.