on 27 April 2011
Like others, I approached this record with some degree of trepidation- largely on account of its immediate ability to divide opinion among the man's most devoted admirers. Is it going to be as good or as disappointing as others declare? Well, my own response on taking the plunge was one of astonishment. The very first track caused my jaw to drop in wonderment of what met my ears. And as one track followed another it slowly dawned on me that I wasn't listening to a rather fine Steve Earle offering, I was listening to one of his very best. I've read that Steve attempts nothing new here, but he most certainly does. No previous album of his sounds like this one. The sonic landscape is carefully crafted to suit the tone of the songs & there are some remarkable songs here, at least a few of which are surely destined to be classed as classics. Highlights include the opening 'Waitin' On The Sky' (having been brought up in a military town beneath a big sky, I know exactly what he's singing about), 'The Gulf Of Mexico', 'This City' . . . & then there's 'Every Part Of Me'. The is probably the most direct love song I've ever heard. On paper, the lyrics don't seem to add up to much but the performance is breathtaking, utterly convincing & very moving. It really is rather special & I absolutely dread the prospect of it being subjected to a cover version by a contestant in some televised singing contest.
Have played the whole album three times now & it's impressed more with each hearing. I'm going to stick my neck out here & suggest that this is likely to be very influential on younger musicians. This is the work of a master craftsman in his maturity who succeeds in conveying far more genuine feeling by playing with a restraint that teems with rich musical detail. It is an album of haunting blasted beauty & I've never been able to say that about a Steve Earle record before. Personally, I think the guy just served an ace.
on 25 April 2011
It is safe to say that Steve Earle is one of the very few living legends. His solid country blues with a hint of bluegrass style lays strong foundations for songs with meaningful and usually satirical lyrics. A seasoned artist of the protest song.
'I'll never get out of this world alive' stays true to Earle's roots, with a solid bass line, intricate acoustic guitar work, the occasional twang of bluegrass and hard meaningful lyrics to complement the instruments. His voice has taken the route of many other grizzled old folk singers. With a far gruffer texture than from his youth you can almost picture John Wayne or Old Man Jeff Bridges face to the voice. The voice of the outlaw has matured like a scotch whiskey, similar to that of Tom Jones in his most recent album.
Songs like 'The Gulf of Mexico' stay true as true to the country blues hand book, a solid driving bass tempo that cant stop you from tapping with dulcet and flowing acoustic rhythm. 'Little Emperor' has the twang of bluegrass with the fiddle keeping the song moving and very reminiscent of songs from his earlier albums, but with more grit.
All in all this is an incredible album. A mature album from a seasoned veteran of country/folk music a must for Steve Earle fans. For new comers to the Outlaw Earle this might be like reading a story backwards if you venture from here to his earlier albums. A great album still also on its own as well, music crafted with attention, originality and reams of experience, what more can you ask for!
on 9 May 2011
Steve went a little askew with "Townes" but this is a great return to form. He must be the only artist (perhaps along with Tom Waits) who adds rough edges to his material! The production appears to be hit and miss at times but thats how T Bone's career has gone. The material is up with Steve's best, "Waitin' On The Sky" and "Every Part Of Me" are exceptional. A great addition to his long list of wonderful albums.
on 25 April 2011
The art of platitude, twice: Steve Earle is a brilliant songwriter; every Steve Earle album is superb.
That nutshells the man and his latest album, 'I'll Never Get Out Of This World Alive'. Surely Earle has usurped the 'outlaw' mantle from Waylon by now, and this album continues the raw and robust countryblues of his oeuvre to date, adding, as always, folk and bluegrass to complete a full palette of musical narratives. The 'outlaw' tag has more credibility with Earle too in his political commentaries, here represented by the acerbic 'Little Emperor' that places George W in his proper political place [and this isn't satire; it's sincere judgement]; and 'The Gulf of Mexico' which is a more reflective but nonetheless serious observation on the BP oil spill and its consequences.
My personal view is that Earle's finest song to date is 'My Old Friend the Blues' from debut album 'Guitar Town', and on this latest T-Bone Burnett produced collection - Earle's first since his tribute to Townes Van Zandt - the ballad 'Every Part of Me' challenges in its beauty, both musically and lyrically. It declares a more positive force in life compared with the former where 'Lovers leave and friends let you down'. In a hard life - heroin addiction, time in jail, married 7 times - to now write 'I love you with all my heart, all my soul, every part of me; it's all I can do to mark where you end and I start' reflects that Earle has found a blessing when he 'didn't think this kind would ever find me'.
Other wonderful tracks on this album are 'Lonely Are The Free', 'I Am A Wanderer', and 'Heaven and Hell', a duet with wife Allison Moorer who is the subject, presumably, of the most puissant line from 'Every Part of Me': 'I can't promise anything except my last breath will bear your name'.
Those who might query the 'outlaw' tag would presumably point to his more popular sojourns into cameo performances in 'The Wire' and more recently 'Treme'. This would seem pretty churlish given, as I have already referenced, Earle's clear and sustained commitment to political views and causes. I mention this because of closing song 'This City' written for 'Treme'. However, this also carries the full weight of sincerity and the artist's craft not being compromised by commercial considerations. I watched the final episode of 'Treme' this week and as 'The City' played out the closing credits it was particularly poignant because it empathises so completely with the story. There is a wonderful cameo in this episode where Earle is in the process of completing his writing of the song.
on 27 April 2011
I was a bit apprenhensive about buying this album, as Steve's last album of original songs, Washington Square Serenade, was a major disappointment.
Seeing that T Bone Burnett was involved here reassured me somewhat. His presence is usally a sign of quality.
There is nothing new or startling about this latest offering, it is Steve doing what he does best - political "right-on" lyrics, the occasional love song - and, thankfully, it is something of a return to form. It's certainly an improvment on Washington Square Serenade.
The songs are strong (mostly) and his expressive voice has never sounded better. It's not one of his best albums, by a long shot. He will never match (in my opinion) the creative streak and run of five classic albums that started with Train a Coming. I don't mean that as a criticism, as few songwriters could have sustained such high quality over so many albums. Those albums, for me, cement Steve's place among the best songwriters of his generation and some of the classic songs he recorded along the way will still be around 200 years from now.
Getting back to the present release, it is as I say, a return to form even though there is nothing here that he hasn't done better elsewhere. I don't think there are any songs here that would make it onto a list of his twenty best songs. Not my list anyway.
The arrangements are acoustic rather than rocky, the subject matter of the lyrics cover territiory familair to his fans.
If like me, you didn't like Washington Square Serenade, don't be afraid to give this a listen even if, at less than 40 minutes, it is a bit short (as indeed many of his albums are, for some reason). I am looking forward to seeing him on tour with these songs.
on 30 April 2011
When Washington Square Serenade was released in 2007, it appeared as if the move to New York had revitalised Steve Earle's creative juices. That its successor, Townes (2009) was such a career low point came as something of a surprise, despite its unaccountable Grammy-winning status. Townes Van Zandt was a hero of Earle's, as well as a personal friend. The great man's songbook deserved a better tribute than the pedestrian treatment it received at Earle's hands, so much so that the stripped down 'Basics' set that accompanied the main CD release was better than the album itself.
I'll Never Get Out Of This World Alive goes some way to redress the balance. The songs deal in varying ways with the theme of mortality, and share a title with a novel recently penned by Earle. Produced by T-Bone Burnett, whose services continue to be de rigueur in Americana circles, the album features a varied set of songs, with Earle's customary country blues and Celtic stew. It's not a set designed for immediate gratification, taking two or three listens for the melodies and subtleties of the songs to seep through the somewhat downbeat and muddy production. The clunky political sloganeering of earlier material is thankfully missing this time, but `Little Emperor' bids a bitter farewell to George W.Bush, `hey little hypocrite what you gonna say / When you wind up standin' naked on the final judgement day'. Best is a duet with Allison Moorer, `Heaven Or Hell', while the bluesy `Meet Me In The Alleyway' and `God Is God' represent other standout tracks. This may not be Steve Earle's most inspirational or original set of songs, but it serves as a useful primer in all the various styles for which he is most familiar, and as such is a welcome, if somewhat muted addition to his significant catalogue.
Three and a half stars.
By the law of averages Steve Earle should be a drug and alcohol ravaged has been of a session musician, jobbing for any main stream country star who is prepared to take the chance and relying on royalties from the likes of Guitar Town and Copperhead Road to eke out some sort of existence in post-Bush America. Well thank goodness laws can and are broken because, with the release of his fourteenth studio album, Earle's transformation from disaffected musical outlaw to song writing and story telling giant is complete. There are no easy answers to why it has taken so long for Earle to produce what is undeniably his finest work since 2002's Jerusalem although two important parts of the equation are wife and fellow musician, Allison Moorer and producer/guitarist T Bone Burnett. The former has been Earle's muse since 2005, duetting beautifully on 'Washington Square Serenade's Days Aren't Long Enough while the latter, after his collaboration with Alison Krauss and Robert Plant on 'Raising Sand' seems to be the ideal match for Earle's brand of contemporary alt country.
Opening track Waiting On The Sky pays homage to his Texan childhood with some deliciously reverbed guitar from Mr Burnett to give a taster of things to come. 'Little Emperor' retreads familiar territory with Earle's lyrics poking fun at the politicians and captains of industry who are now,finally, feeling the effects of capital greed. By contrast, 'The Gulf of Mexico' starts like a sea shanty before telling the story of how three generations survived on the wealth of the eponymous gulf. 'Molly-O' with its strident banjo is certainly a curiosity, this time the main character is a highwayman, stealing to give the love of his life the diamonds and gold she in turn loves. 'Meet Me In The Alleyway' complete with distorted, Tom Waits-esque vocals is the first of two songs about New Orleans, this one dealing with voodoo, Mardi Gras and the darker side of life; Earle's harmonica playing gives this more than a passing similarity to early Alabama 3. 'Every Part Of Me', an unashamed love song shows Earle's softer side to great effect and is a fitting tribute to the calming, domesticating even, influence that his seventh wife has had on him. 'Heaven Or Hell' has Earle and Moorer duetting again to exquisite effect while next but one track and album closer, 'This City' will be familiar to viewers of 'Treme' series one. This is as rousing a song as any that Earle has written since 'The Revolution Starts Now' and grows stronger with every listen - the redoubtable Allen Toussaint arranges and conducts the horn section which adds colour and vibrancy to this touching tribute to New Orleans.
For long standing fans of Steve Earle this album is a must-have, for the newer listeners it will hopefully inspire them to seek out his extensive back catalogue. For everyone else, we reviewers can do many things but we can't make people buy albums. But you know you really should buy it don't you.
"Hanging around a love I know a little bit now, and I'm sitting on top of the world,
Banging on a guitar while the sun goes down, singing a song about a red headed girl,
Most of time I would have said them days was gone, but I'm giving it another whirl,
Didn't know that I was gonna live this long, now I'm sitting on top of the world..."
This is Steve Earle at a new peak - he's happy, he's settled and he seems at peace with the world - and it's done wonders for his relationship with his muse. The CD hasn't been off the deck since the third listen, and I can honestly say that this is a must-have for anyone who liked Shane McGowan at his best, or Tom Waits when he was going Straight to the Top., even Neil Young during his hey-down years; all these artists are brought to mind at different points here.
As I write, tickets are on sale for Steve's UK tour - it's going to be something worth seeing; go if you get the chance.
Try to get the version with the DVD, as it's chock full of fascinating interviews and documentaries.
My album of the year so far.
on 27 April 2011
Steve Earle has delighted us with so many great albums and this latest 'I'll Never Get Out Of This World Alive' (A title giving a nod to the great Hank Williams) is no exception. On the first few listens I would say that although there is nothing new in style or content what we get is typical Steve Earle. The opening track, 'Waitin' On The Sky' harks back to Steve's early rockabilly style roots as exemplified by Early Tracks and of which traces were found on his first two studio albums Guitar Town and more so Exit O. Little Emperor is a classic Steve Earle song both in style and content (His thoughts on G W Bush). The third song (The Gulf Of Mexico), written after the BP drilling disaster sees a change in style typical to that of Irish folk, (Think of The Pogues) and the fourth Molly-O continues this folk theme. God Is God / Lonely Are The Free / I Am A Wanderer sees us back with a familiar Steve Earle style which could have easily come from albums such as Train-A-Commin / El Corazon or Jerusalem to name 3. Laid back, thought provoking, acoustic and beautiful.Every Part Of Me written whilst on a UK tour during the period when his wife was giving birth to their son John Henry, is a simple love song straight from the heart. Meet Me In The Alleyway is a superb County Blues with a New Orleans flavor which would not have been out of place on his post prison album I Feel Alright. Steve is joined by his wife Allison Moorer on the 'love' song Heaven Or Hell. This City, the closing song would not have been out of place on Washington Serenade, deals with the New Orleans floods of a few years ago, and whilst a good track is possibly the least immediate song here.
This album sees Steve Earle back on form with a strong set of songs and a variety of styles typical of the man. There is little of the heavily rock influenced country that brought him to the attention of most of us,(I'm thinking here of Copperhead Road) but if you have been used to his style on albums from 'I Feel Alright up to The Revolution' you should like what I'll Never Get Out Of This world Alive has to offer. Acoustic based country folk at its best, with as usual intelligent and thought provoking lyrics. In all a very worthy addition to your Steve Earle collection. If you have not yet listened properly to Steve Earle, there are many superb albums where you could start and this one is as good as any.
on 5 May 2011
This is Steve at his most honest,in a strange Juxtoposition of expierience,he is Americas equivalent of the very sadly missed,John Martyn.
Both went through similar expieriences,with drug addiction and produced some spine tingling moments.
The album is very much a reflection on the death of his Father and how he reacted to it,not morose in any way,just thoughtful,if you are looking for a repeat of "Townes" or the magnificent"Washington Square" then you may be advised to look elsewhere,but for the optomism shown on this record is a massive plus.
The accompanying DVD has interviews and a high resolution audio mix.
The packaging is excellent.
Steve Earle.....Acoustic guitars,Bouzouki,Banjo,Mandolin,Harmonica and Vocals
T Bone Burnett.....Electric Guitar and Vocals
Jackson Smith.....Electric Guitar
Greg Leisz.....Pedal Steel
Sara Watkins.....Fiddle and Vocals
Dennis Crouch.....Acoustic Bass
Roland Guerin.....Acoustic Bass