The letter E proved to be a short stop on our journey through the alphabet. Only 28 albums to listen to (yet it took my 44 days!). It was a very male, and rather rural collection. Here was the top 10:
- Steve Earle – “El Corazón”
- Eminem – “The Slim Shady LP”
- Eels – “Electro-Shock Blues”
- Justin Townes Earle – “Midnight at The Movies”
- Fred Eaglesmith – “Tinderbox”
- Justin Townes Earle – “The Good Life”
- Eels – “Beautiful Freak”
- Steve Earle – “Copperhead Road”
- Eminem – “Encore”
- Eddy Current Suppression Ring – “Primary Colours”
So, we move onto F. The first piece of recorded material is not an album, but the 12″ single version of this track:
I’m sure I once owned the follow-up album by said artist (on cassette) but strangely chose to dispose of it (perhaps realising its female deterrent effect). Sadly, I just learnt that Falco died in 1998, and that “at the time of his death, he was planning a monumental comeback”. Music’s loss for sure…
Sorry for the lull in my reviewing. I was over in South Australia for a few days sans my iPhone headphones.
As a result I was stuck with that folk standard Bound for South Australia rattling around my head. There is something slighly apt with that choice, as Steve Earle has definitely got folkier over the years.
This collection of tracks sees mandolin and plenty aplenty, and more tunes about the bountiful charms of Irish womenfolk (this time a Galway Girl).
The album is a pretty strong compadré to the mighty El Corazón, but doesn’t quite hit those heights. It is a slightly more morose effort, with more subdued slower efforts.
Earle does tend to spoil his listeners, and one can get blasé about the subtletly and beauty of his songwriting and performances.
I had the pleasure of catching the sobered up, portly ’00s version of Earle live in Byron Bay a few years ago (and was also too timid to have a chat to him when I spied him alone in a pub with a soda and book) and he was a consumate performer.
…although perhaps not up to The Dubliners standard!
File under: Not Transvision Vamp
Steve Earle does like his genre jumps. He’s not a complete chameleon and he doesn’t venture too far, but he does transform considerably within the ‘roots’ domain.
Here he justifies his facial hair with a deep dive into the world of bluegrass and general folkiness.
He teams up with McCoury crew, a posse of slack-jawed fiddlers, banjoists and tin-whistlerians.
These yokels (for I envisage them as Cletus from The Simpsons and his inbred clan) strum up a storm. It’s like one big barndance.
Steve holds nothing back, embracing all the genre’s B-roll of imagery. Look kiddies, there’s an Irish immigrant…and a miner’s miserable life… And an alluring lass breaking a farmboy’s heart and leading him a hanging death.
I’m a sucker for a tune about steam trains. And this set kicks off with one. Yeeee Haaaaa.
File under: Get ya yokel vocals here folks
My Steve Earle collection is surprisingly sporadic. Here I jump forward four albums.
The leap is a fun one though. Unlike the scarily skewed Copperhead Road, this is a complete album that keeps delivering from start to finish.
The opener (Christmas in Washington) is a fantastic slow burn lamenting the loss of genuine lefties from US politics. I’m sure Toby Ziegler would sing along (embarassingly).
The pace picks up for Taneytown, a ‘be careful where you go’ tale – a theme that reappears on the super-catchy Telephone Road, and is twisted the other direction in the inspiring (for travellers) NYC.
Earle seems less constrained by musical conventions here. Rather than being just a country-rock, or acoustic-country or bluegrass effort, this album leaps about with confidence and enthusiasm.
Mandolins fire on some tracks (such as the delightful I Still Carry You Around). Others are much rockier (NYC). Many are humourous. You Know the Rest is a songwriter at complete ease with his abilities.
This is the album I put on to demonstrate than Earle is much more than that Copperhead Road song that I like to butcher. It also showcases how vital and exciting roots music (for want of a better term) can be.
File under: I ♥ this
I originally owned this album on cassette. Now, kiddies, these little plastic things had half the songs on one side, and then you turned them over and listened to the other side.
If you didn’t like the other side, you could just rewind and listen to your favoured side again.
That happened a lot with this album. I can’t think of an album with a bigger disparity between sides.
Side A is outstanding. It kicks off with the rollicking title track – one of my ‘go to’ karoake tunes – a tale of booze- and drug-running. The pounding drums and the country-rock rebel imagery has guaranteed Earle a hairy, bikey following ever since.
The pace keeps up with Snake Oil, the full-band version of Devil’s Right Hand, and The Pogues-backed Johnny Come Lately. The latter is a wonderful gelling of the Celtic and Southern, and a great tale. Here it is being recorded:
And the track:
So, at this stage we’re talking Top 10 spot on my rankings for sure. Then you turn it over, and Steve’s gone all soft and maudlin, with fluffy ballads, and a bizarre (but not in a cool way) Xmas carol! The bikers (and me) are not happy…
At least they put all the great tracks together.
File under: Side A excites, Side B bites
The music industry can be a harsh work environment. Steve Earle spent more than a decade trying to get his talent recognised and his recording works released.
This CD is a compilation of a few of these ignored, belated and unloved efforts. It is more of a curiosity than anything else.
It is the record of a performer and songwriter trying to find a voice. Earle wrote a few country hits for mainstream artists, and you can hear the more generic approach he was taking here.
The songs are a mix of rockabilly and MOR country. There is little angst, little passion. It is country-by-numbers.
The only rough diamond in the mix is an early recording of a song he would polish up in to a real gem later in his career – Devil’s Right Hand. I love the later version. This early incarnation is merely a demo in comparison.
Perhaps the music honchos were correct back in the late 70s and early 80s in questioning Earle’s acumen. And the heartbreak and grudge would drive his later brilliance.
None of that motivates owning this. Seek out other works.
File under: A glimpse into the dull life of the A&R job