The fiddles are flying again for Steve Earle, and it sounds so good to have the author/actor back acoustic and singin’ oldtime, backporch country/folk again after flings with alternative psychedelia. The last hit Hank Williams ever had before he died at 29 was “I’ll Never Get Out Of This World Alive.” Earle doesn’t cover it here but also uses it as the title of his upcoming novel.
Maybe it was his 2009 Townes Van Zandt tribute, Townes, that brought him back home musically. That album had him soulfully covering his mentor’s music. This album has some of the most profound songs Earle’s written in years. They all have mortality at their core (as do the recent Paul Simon and Joe Ely albums).
“Everybody I knew hangin’ around wonderin’ what they’d do when the draft board called,” sings Earle in opener “Waitin’ On The Sky.” It’s a line that resonates with those of us old enough to remember that fear during Vietnam. “Meet Me In The Alley” smacks of his theme to The Wire, all mysterioso and electronically enhanced, a brief respite from the rest of the album.
Produced by T-Bone Burnett with the kind of folksy and rustic Americana authenticity that highlights Earle’s ragged-but-right country voice, the songs flow by like listening to Woody Guthrie on a dusty Oklahoma street corner.
You can think long and deep about “Heaven Or Hell” (a duet with his wife Allison Moorer) or “God Is God,” but if you don’t think too hard and just groove, that’s cool too.
In A Word: Realistic