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Country - Released March 5, 1986 | MCA Nashville

Hi-Res Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
On Steve Earle's first major American tour following the release of his debut album, Guitar Town, Earle found himself sharing a bill with Dwight Yoakam one night and the Replacements another, and one listen to the album explains why -- while the music was country through and through, Earle showed off enough swagger and attitude to intimidate anyone short of Keith Richards. While Earle's songs bore a certain resemblance to the Texas outlaw ethos (think Waylon Jennings in "Lonesome, On'ry and Mean" mode), they displayed a literate anger and street-smart snarl that set him apart from the typical Music Row hack, and no one in Nashville in 1986 was able (or willing) to write anything like the title song, a hilarious and harrowing tale of life on the road ("Well, I gotta keep rockin' while I still can/Got a two-pack habit and motel tan") or the bitterly unsentimental account of small-town life "Someday" ("You go to school, where you learn to read and write/So you can walk into the county bank and sign away your life"), the latter of which may be the best Bruce Springsteen song the Boss didn't write. And even when Earle gets a bit teary-eyed on "My Old Friend the Blues" and "Little Rock 'n' Roller," he showed off a battle-scarred heart that was tougher and harder-edged than most of his competition. Guitar Town is slightly flawed by an overly tidy production from Emory Gordy, Jr., and Tony Brown as well as a band that never hit quite as hard as Earle's voice, and he would make many stronger and more ambitious records in the future, but Guitar Town was his first shot at showing a major audience what he could do, and he hit a bull's-eye -- it's perhaps the strongest and most confident debut album any country act released in the 1980s. © Mark Deming /TiVo
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Country - Released March 5, 1986 | MCA Nashville

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
On Steve Earle's first major American tour following the release of his debut album, Guitar Town, Earle found himself sharing a bill with Dwight Yoakam one night and the Replacements another, and one listen to the album explains why -- while the music was country through and through, Earle showed off enough swagger and attitude to intimidate anyone short of Keith Richards. While Earle's songs bore a certain resemblance to the Texas outlaw ethos (think Waylon Jennings in "Lonesome, On'ry and Mean" mode), they displayed a literate anger and street-smart snarl that set him apart from the typical Music Row hack, and no one in Nashville in 1986 was able (or willing) to write anything like the title song, a hilarious and harrowing tale of life on the road ("Well, I gotta keep rockin' while I still can/Got a two-pack habit and motel tan") or the bitterly unsentimental account of small-town life "Someday" ("You go to school, where you learn to read and write/So you can walk into the county bank and sign away your life"), the latter of which may be the best Bruce Springsteen song the Boss didn't write. And even when Earle gets a bit teary-eyed on "My Old Friend the Blues" and "Little Rock 'n' Roller," he showed off a battle-scarred heart that was tougher and harder-edged than most of his competition. Guitar Town is slightly flawed by an overly tidy production from Emory Gordy, Jr., and Tony Brown as well as a band that never hit quite as hard as Earle's voice, and he would make many stronger and more ambitious records in the future, but Guitar Town was his first shot at showing a major audience what he could do, and he hit a bull's-eye -- it's perhaps the strongest and most confident debut album any country act released in the 1980s. © Mark Deming /TiVo
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Country - Released October 17, 1988 | Geffen

Hi-Res Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
Steve Earle and Nashville had had just about enough of one another once it came time for him to cut his third album in 1988. Earle's first two albums, Guitar Town and Exit 0, had sold well and earned enthusiastic reviews, but his stubborn refusal to make nice, his desire to make more rock-influenced albums, and the faint but clear Leftism in his populist lyrical stance made him no friends at MCA's Nashville offices, and his growing dependence on heroin didn't help matters one bit. Earle was moved to MCA's Los Angeles-based Uni imprint, and he headed to Memphis to cut his third album, Copperhead Road. The result improbably became one of Earle's strongest albums; between its big drum sound, arena-sized guitars, and a swagger that owed more to the Rolling Stones and Guns N' Roses than country's New Traditionalists, Copperhead Road was the unabashed rock & roll album Earle had long threatened to make, but his attitude and personality were strong enough to handle the oversized production, and the songs showed that for all the aural firepower, this was still the same down-home troublemaker from Earle's first two albums. The moonshiner's tale of the title cut, the gunfighter's saga of "The Devil's Right Hand," and the story of two generations of soldiers in "Johnny Come Lately" (with the Pogues sitting in as Earle's backing band) were all tough but compelling narratives rooted in country tradition, and their rock moves updated them without robbing them of their power. And if the songs about love that dominate the album's second half don't have the same immediate impact, "Even When I'm Blue," "You Belong to Me," and "Once You Love" are honest and absorbing reflections of the heart of this dysfunctional romantic. Copperhead Road's production, which occasionally borders on hair metal territory, dates it, but the fire of Earle's performances and the strength of the songs more than compensates, and this album still connects 20 years on: if he had been able to hold himself together and make a few more records this strong, it's hard to imagine how big a star he could have become. © Mark Deming /TiVo
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Country - Released January 1, 2002 | MCA Nashville

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
On Steve Earle's first major American tour following the release of his debut album, Guitar Town, Earle found himself sharing a bill with Dwight Yoakam one night and the Replacements another, and one listen to the album explains why -- while the music was country through and through, Earle showed off enough swagger and attitude to intimidate anyone short of Keith Richards. While Earle's songs bore a certain resemblance to the Texas outlaw ethos (think Waylon Jennings in "Lonesome, On'ry and Mean" mode), they displayed a literate anger and street-smart snarl that set him apart from the typical Music Row hack, and no one in Nashville in 1986 was able (or willing) to write anything like the title song, a hilarious and harrowing tale of life on the road ("Well, I gotta keep rockin' while I still can/Got a two-pack habit and motel tan") or the bitterly unsentimental account of small-town life "Someday" ("You go to school, where you learn to read and write/So you can walk into the county bank and sign away your life"), the latter of which may be the best Bruce Springsteen song the Boss didn't write. And even when Earle gets a bit teary-eyed on "My Old Friend the Blues" and "Little Rock 'n' Roller," he showed off a battle-scarred heart that was tougher and harder-edged than most of his competition. Guitar Town is slightly flawed by an overly tidy production from Emory Gordy, Jr., and Tony Brown as well as a band that never hit quite as hard as Earle's voice, and he would make many stronger and more ambitious records in the future, but Guitar Town was his first shot at showing a major audience what he could do, and he hit a bull's-eye -- it's perhaps the strongest and most confident debut album any country act released in the 1980s. © Mark Deming /TiVo
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Pop - Released October 17, 1988 | UNI

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
Steve Earle and Nashville had had just about enough of one another once it came time for him to cut his third album in 1988. Earle's first two albums, Guitar Town and Exit 0, had sold well and earned enthusiastic reviews, but his stubborn refusal to make nice, his desire to make more rock-influenced albums, and the faint but clear Leftism in his populist lyrical stance made him no friends at MCA's Nashville offices, and his growing dependence on heroin didn't help matters one bit. Earle was moved to MCA's Los Angeles-based Uni imprint, and he headed to Memphis to cut his third album, Copperhead Road. The result improbably became one of Earle's strongest albums; between its big drum sound, arena-sized guitars, and a swagger that owed more to the Rolling Stones and Guns N' Roses than country's New Traditionalists, Copperhead Road was the unabashed rock & roll album Earle had long threatened to make, but his attitude and personality were strong enough to handle the oversized production, and the songs showed that for all the aural firepower, this was still the same down-home troublemaker from Earle's first two albums. The moonshiner's tale of the title cut, the gunfighter's saga of "The Devil's Right Hand," and the story of two generations of soldiers in "Johnny Come Lately" (with the Pogues sitting in as Earle's backing band) were all tough but compelling narratives rooted in country tradition, and their rock moves updated them without robbing them of their power. And if the songs about love that dominate the album's second half don't have the same immediate impact, "Even When I'm Blue," "You Belong to Me," and "Once You Love" are honest and absorbing reflections of the heart of this dysfunctional romantic. Copperhead Road's production, which occasionally borders on hair metal territory, dates it, but the fire of Earle's performances and the strength of the songs more than compensates, and this album still connects 20 years on: if he had been able to hold himself together and make a few more records this strong, it's hard to imagine how big a star he could have become. © Mark Deming /TiVo
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Country - Released March 1, 1996 | Warner Records

Steve Earle quietly announced he was back in action and capable of making substantial, heartfelt music again with his 1994 acoustic album Train a Comin', but on 1995's I Feel Alright Earle showed he was truly back in fighting shape, and from the album's first moments he sounds ready to roar and holds nothing back. While Earle's battle with drug abuse and his brief stay in prison aren't explicitly addressed on this album (except on the harrowing "CCKMP," in which Earle confesses "cocaine cannot kill my pain" and "heroin is the only thing/the only gift the darkness brings"), the hurt brought to himself and others by his betrayals runs through many of these songs, sometimes with humor ("Hard Core Troubadour"), sometimes with regret ("Valentine's Day"), and sometimes with a painful self-awareness ("Hurtin' Me, Hurtin' You" and "The Unrepentant"). But I Feel Alright isn't about addiction and loss so much as recovery and starting over again, and if the songs often concern Earle's misdeeds, the strength of the music finds him confronting his demons without flinching and conjuring up some of the powerfully muscular rock and affecting country of his life. And like Train a Comin', I Feel Alright shows Earle finding the courage and confidence to make a record just the way he wants, and this may be Earle's finest hour in the studio -- the production is tough, resonant, and a perfect match for the material, the players bring their A game without showboating, and Earle's rough but passionate vocals are pure, honest, and direct on every cut. I Feel Alright affirmed that Steve Earle's brush with oblivion had not only failed to silence him, but he was a more courageous artist when he came out the other side, and no one who has heard this record is likely to argue that point. © Mark Deming /TiVo
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Country - Released January 10, 1997 | Warner Records

To say Steve Earle had career problems in 1994 when he recorded Train a Comin' is something more than an understatement. Earle's life went into a dramatic tailspin thanks to a voracious drug habit after he parted ways with MCA in 1991, and he ended up spending a few months in jail on drug and weapons charges in 1993. Earle thankfully got treatment for his addictions while behind bars, and was clean and sober for the first time in many years when he scored a deal with a tiny independent label, Winter Harvest Records, and cut an acoustic album called Train a Comin'. Considering how low Earle had sunk, it was a pleasant shock that Train a Comin' was not only good, it was one of the strongest albums of his career to date. Dominated by songs he's written years before along with a few new tunes and some well-chosen covers, Train a Comin' featured Earle with a small group of gifted acoustic pickers, including Norman Blake, Peter Rowan, and Roy Huskey, Jr., and the tone of these sessions is at once relaxed and committed, sounding like a back porch guitar pull with a seriously talented guy handling the lead vocals and calling out the tunes. Earle's experiences with the judicial system hadn't exactly improved his voice, but he's in far more potent form than he had been on 1991's live set Shut Up and Die Like an Aviator, and his control and command of his instrument is genuinely impressive. Earle's natural cockiness works in his favor on these tunes, especially "Tom Ames' Prayer," "Hometown Blues," and "Angel Is the Devil," and his gift for telling a story is plainly evident on "Ben McCulloch" and a moving cover of Townes Van Zandt's "Tecumseh Valley." Train a Comin' is not an album that asks the audience to forgive Steve Earle for his sins; it's a document of an artist who after a season in hell has reclaimed his gift and is determined to put it to use, and after years of fighting Nashville to do things his own way, Earle resumed his career by following his own muse with eloquent simplicity, and Train a Comin' shows his instincts were entirely correct. [Winter Harvest's original release of Train a Comin' featured a sequence not approved by Earle, who reissued the album on his E Squared label with a different running order; some pressings of the E Square version also delete his cover of the Beatles' "I'm Looking Through You."] © Mark Deming /TiVo
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Guy

Country - Released March 29, 2019 | New West Records

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Steve Earle has always commended his two main idols. In 2009, he dedicated a tribute album, Townes, to Townes Van Zandt and ten years later he did the same for Guy Clark with the album Guy. Earle is an unparalleled author, a fantastic poet with his signature gravelly voice and an immense songwriter whose songs have been covered by Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Ricky Skaggs, Emmylou Harris, Bobby Bare, Vince Gill and George Strait. Although in 2016 Clark sadly passed away, he will remain one of the best songwriters who told stories of living on the fringes of society like few others. At 19 years of age, Earle had the chance to play bass in his group.“Townes and Guy were like Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg for me” Earle reminisces, “When it comes to mentors, I’m glad I had both. If you asked Townes what it’s all about, he’d hand you a copy of Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee by Dee Brown. If you asked Guy the same question, he’d take a piece of paper and teach you how to diagram a song, what goes where. Townes was one of the all-time great writers, but he only finished three songs during the last fifteen years of his life. Guy had cancer and wrote songs until the day he died. He painted, he built instruments, he owned a guitar shop in the Bay Area where the young Bobby Weir hung out. He was older and wiser. You hung around with him and knew why they call what artists do disciplines. Because he was disciplined”.Now 64 years of age, Steve Earle has himself become a wise man and an icon of alternative country music that is always keen to share and contribute to values, ideas, sounds and musical heritage. With his unique voice, he showcases the very best of Clark’s work here. Earle maintains a certain measure of classicism in these intense versions of the classic tracks Desperados Waiting for the Train and That Old Time Feeling and brings the album to a poignant close with Old Friends featuring just the right mix of old friends: Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell, Terry Allen, Jerry Jeff Walker and Jo Harvey Allen. © Marc Zisman/Qobuz
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Reggae - Released September 26, 1997 | Warner Records

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Country - Released June 6, 2000 | Warner Records

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Country - Released June 16, 2017 | Warner Records

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Country - Released January 1, 1987 | MCA Nashville

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Steve Earle once told a reporter that after listening to the final mix of 1987's Exit 0, he and his band hopped on their tour bus and played yet another gig that night, which is what they'd been doing during most of their time off from recording sessions. Exit 0 was recorded with Earle's road band, the Dukes, instead of the usual team of Nashville session pros, and as a consequence it boasts a leaner, tougher sound than his debut, Guitar Town, though the slightly slick cookie-cutter production by Tony Brown, Emory Gordy, Jr., and Richard Bennett saps a bit of the music's power. The album features a few great songs, including "I Ain't Never Satisfied" (which could practically be Earle's theme song), "The Week of Living Dangerously," "The Rain Came Down," and "Sweet Little '66," but there's a faint hint of sophomore slump to Exit 0 -- "No. 29" is far too sentimental for its own good, the Doug Sahm homage "San Antonio Girl" isn't nearly as good as the songs that clearly inspired it, and "Angry Young Man" feels like filler, something in short supply on most Steve Earle albums. Exit 0 is just uneven enough to qualify as a genuine disappointment, though that's within the context of Earle's body of work; this is still livelier stuff than nearly anyone in Nashville was cranking out at the time (short of Dwight Yoakam) and the high points confirm the guy who wrote "Guitar Town" had more fine tunes where that came from. © Mark Deming /TiVo
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Country - Released April 9, 2002 | Warner Records

In his liner notes to Sidetracks, Steve Earle writes the following: "With the exception of the instrumentals...these (songs) are not outtakes. They are, rather, stray tracks, recorded at different times for different reasons that I am very proud of and are either unreleased or underexposed." In other words, Earle would appreciate it if you didn't call this another odds-and-sods collection and, given the consistent strength of his post-recovery body of work, he has every right to feel that way about this material. Sidetracks doesn't hold together with the cohesion of albums like I Feel Alright or The Mountain, but nothing here sounds like a leftover or something salvaged from the reject bin, either; these are solid and committed performances of good to very good songs, and they do indeed deserve wider circulation. Sidetracks also serves as a nice showcase for Steve Earle the Interpretive Singer. Since only six of the 13 tracks were written by Earle and two of those are instrumentals, for the most part you get to hear Earle try his hand at other people's songs, and for the most part he sounds great, bringing his own feisty stamp to tunes as diverse as the Flying Burrito Brothers' ode to draft dodging, "My Uncle," the reggae chestnut "Johnny Too Bad" (with Earle sounding like the first rude boy from Texas), the Chambers Brothers' psych-soul protest anthem, "Time Has Come Today" (featuring guest vocals from Sheryl Crow and ghostly samples from Abbie Hoffman; it was recorded for the soundtrack to Steal This Movie), and Nirvana's angst-fest "Breed" (actually the most faithful cover on this disc). Beyond a couple of minor quibbles (as much as one might enjoy "Creepy Jackalope Eye," the real keeper from Earle's EP with the Supersuckers was his high-attitude version of "Before They Make Me Run," which didn't make the cut here), Sidetracks is an impressive collection that makes clear Steve Earle's leftovers make for a better album than most songwriters could construct from their top-shelf work -- and that he can get over as a singer and not just as a songwriter performing his own work. © Mark Deming /TiVo
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Country - Released June 16, 2017 | Warner Records

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Even if he is not from the same generation as Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Billy Joe Shaver or Kris Kristofferson, Steve Earle is a genuine outlaw, lock, stock and barrel. His attitude chimes with the criticisms that people have levelled against him since he started out: too rock for Nashville, too country for rock. With time, Earle made a name for himself as a great songwriter, full stop - he didn't worry too much about which musical family would adopt him. A disciple and friend of his fellow Texans Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark, he was a member of the outlaw band that lived on the margins of Nashville in the Seventies. He is also a perfect Don Juan (seven marriages!), a recovered junky who endured a long descent into hell that took him as far as prison, an actor who has worked on cult series like The Wire or Treme and even a novelist (with a new collection entitled Doghouse Roses and the novel I'll Never Get Out Of This World Alive). As much at home in punchy country rock and visceral folk as in bluegrass, genres which he attacks with the heart of a punk and the soul of a committed rebel engaged in all the struggles of America's radical left, the self-proclaimed hardcore troubadour here renders homage to his rebel predecessor, possibly the ultimate outlaw: Waylon Jennings. And the guitars are furious from the off, which is a side of Steve Earle we have not seen for years. From the first strands of So You Wannabe An Outlaw, the first song on the album and the one that gives it its title, the bearded man's country rock intentions are pretty clear. And even more so when we hear, in the midst of this rollocking track, the voice of Willie Nelson! Elsewhere, Earle sings a duet with Miranda Lambert on This is How It Ends, and then does the same with Johnny Bush (author of Whiskey River by Willie Nelson!) on Walkin' in LA. The record leaves us giddy and sweating, covered in dust, knuckles bloodied. Note that the Deluxe Edition contains some choice covers: Ain't No God in Mexico by Billy Joe Shaver, Sister's Coming Home/Down At The Corner Beer Joint by Willie Nelson, The Local Memory also by Willie Nelson and the immense Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way by Waylon Jennings, an outlaw hymn par excellence. © MZ/Qobuz
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Country - Released January 1, 1990 | Geffen*

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"I defend The Hard Way to the death, because I almost died in the process of making it," Steve Earle told a reporter in 2000, and he wasn't just being melodramatic. Earle's well-documented addiction to heroin and cocaine was spiraling out of control in 1990 while he was holed up in Memphis recording The Hard Way. And while his 1988 album Copperhead Road showed him moving away from country and more toward hard rock -- and earned him a minor crossover hit in the process -- his record label was hoping for a major commercial breakthrough so that his sales might begin to match his good press. The resulting album is a bit of a mess, often sloppy and overbearing, where his country sides had been dynamic and precise, and Earle's voice was starting to show the strain of his lifestyle. Even his songwriting, usually peerless, wasn't at its best here, with "When the People Find Out," "Regular Guy," and "Justice in Ontario" sounding like they were tossed together fast to round out the album (the latter sounds like a transparent stroke to his Canadian fan base, where Copperhead Road went multi-platinum). But even his weakest studio album has plenty to recommend it, the all-too-biographical "Have Mercy" and "West Nashville Boogie," and "Billy Austin," a deeply moving ballad about a man on death row. The Hard Way isn't much of an album by Earle's standards, but it's still got enough heart, soul, and fire to prove Earle couldn't throw away his talent, no matter how hard he tried. © Mark Deming /TiVo
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Country - Released February 23, 1999 | Warner Records

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Country - Released August 24, 2004 | Warner Records

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Folk - Released September 29, 2020 | New West Records

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Country - Released September 24, 2002 | Warner Records

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Country - Released May 12, 2009 | New West Records

In his brief liner sketch on this album of Townes Van Zandt covers, songwriter Steve Earle writes: "I always read everything Townes told me to read. All of us did; we who followed him around, or simply bided our time in places along his migratory path, for we were indeed a cult, in the strictest sense of the word, with Townes at its ever shifting center." While what it was he read isn't worth spoiling here, it's the last part of that long sentence that really matters. Van Zandt inspired a cult, and an even bigger list of pale imitators. Earle may lionize the man and the artist (hence the tribute record), and may have even begun as an imitator, but he became something else entirely -- an iconoclastic (and iconic) artist and producer in his own right who can interpret these songs as such. Van Zandt may have indeed been Earle's "schoolmaster," but it's Earle who does Van Zandt's artistic legend justice in these 15 diverse, yet stripped down performances of his songs. Many of the choices are obvious: "Pancho and Lefty," "To Live Is to Fly," "White Freightliner Blues," "Delta Momma Blues,"and "Don't Take It Too Bad" among them. Some would be less so, save for an artist of Earle's particular vision and world bent: "Mr. Mudd and Mr. Gold," "Rake," "Marie," "Colorado Girl," and "(Quicksilver Daydreams Of) Maria." That said, none of these arrangements are predictable, and yet all of them work. Earle's approach is very basic with some interesting twists and turns. Acoustic guitars, upright basses, mandolin, Dobro, banjo, fiddle, and mandola sit alongside electric guitars (thanks to Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello) and basses, harmonium, and effects. The distorted blues harp and hand percussion on "Where I Lead Me," is an excellent touch, but the megaphone vocals, ambient and feedback noise, and drum loops and electric guitar crunch on "Lungs" make it sound more like Black 47 covering Van Zandt. The reverb and loops on "Loretta" juxtapose beautifully against the acoustic guitars and the fiddle. The version of "Marie" is less harrowing than its author's; it feels more third-person narrative than first-person horror story -- thank goodness. "White Freightliner Blues" captures the free-in-the-wind bluegrass nature Van Zandt intended, perhaps more so than his own world-weary delivery, thanks in large part to Tim O'Brien's mandolin, Darrell Scott's banjo, and Shad Cobb's fiddle. Earle would have had a hard time blowing this record. Certainly, he's closer than most to the material as he was to the man, but more than that he's a great songwriter and an avid folk music enthusiast. He understands lineages and the way the tales get told matter in order for them to live on. That's the easy part; the more mercurial thing is how well he succeeded. Earle made Townes' songs seem like an extension of his own last album, 2007's Washington Square Serenade. The same anything-goes-attitude, the adherence to all kinds of folk music, whether it's from across oceans, terrains, or alleyways, whether its roots are rural or urban, permeates this recording, making it an Earle record most of all; and that is about as fitting a tribute as there is to Van Zandt. © Thom Jurek /TiVo

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Steve Earle in the magazine
  • Bitter Tears
    Bitter Tears Fifty years ago, the Man in Black sang the story of the American Indian nation...