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Country - Released May 22, 2020 | New West Records

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As Steve Earle has built a rising profile in the theater and acting worlds, his original music output has run thin. After 2000's Transcendental Blues, he's recorded a talky political manifesto, The Revolution Starts Now; Washington Square Serenade, a presumptuous bid to be part of NYC folk history; separate albums covering both Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt and the inevitable blues album with a Robert Johnson-referencing title. Now comes Ghosts of West Virginia, which draws on Earle's love for American history and his support of the labor movement. Composed for the documentary play Coal Country (about the 2010 explosion that killed 29 miners), these short, bluegrass-influenced songs are pleasant if unmemorable, constrained by being a soundtrack to a pre-existing story. Dedicated to Kelly Looney, the longtime bassist for the Dukes, Ghosts was recorded at Electric Lady Studios in NYC by longtime Earle engineer Ray Kennedy. It benefits from the presence of a pair longtime collaborators—guitarist Chris Masterson and vocalist/fiddle player Eleanor Whitmore (heard on the love song, "If I Could See Your Face"). The big change is Earle's voice, now gruff and haggard, lacking much of its former expressiveness. It makes a song like "The Mine" a tough listen, though it adds the right atmosphere to "Black Lung"—and his gift of twangin’ rock and roll thankfully reappears on "Fastest Man Alive." Meant as a visual accompaniment, Ghosts is a placeholder for Earle completists and dedicated fans. © Robert Baird/Qobuz
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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 September 9, 2003 | Warner Records

Steve Earle subtitled his 2003 live album Just an American Boy an "Audio Documentary," which may be a bit more grand than it deserves, though in all fairness an awful lot had happened with Earle in the 12 years since his last live album, Shut Up and Die Like an Aviator (recorded shortly before Earle's drug habit bottomed out both his career and his personal life for several years), and a lot was going on with him at the time this show was recorded. Always free with his opinions, Earle's 2002 album Jerusalem, which was written and recorded in the wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on America, featured a song about "American Taliban" John Walker Lindh, and soon Earle was being denounced as a traitor by right-wing commentators faster than you could say "Dixie Chicks." As Earle himself puts it on this album, recorded on the tour supporting Jerusalem, "Things have been really f*cking weird down South, and they're gonna get even weirder," and he uses much of Just an American Boy to spotlight the progressive political slant that has long been a part of his songwriting, ranging from his moving anti-death penalty ballad "Billy Austin," the labor anthem "Harlan Man," and his call for new people's heroes in "Christmas in Washington" to a venomous screed against "compassionate conservatism," "Amerika V. 6.0 (The Best We Can Do)." While Earle mounts a soapbox through much of this set, his political views fortunately don't take a back seat to his skill as a songwriter, which remains razor sharp, or his vocals, which are craggy but emphatic on these recordings, with Earle and his band (including Eric "Roscoe" Ambel and Will Rigby) revving up a potent head of steam throughout. And Earle still knows a good song and a good laugh on the apolitical side of things, as witnessed by "I Remember You," "Ft. Worth Blues," and his stories about encountering square-headed cowboys named Otto in Schertz, TX. The last time Earle recorded a live double, his voice was about to give up on him and he was running on fumes; Just an American Boy finds him strong, defiant, eager to take a stand, and playing like a man half his age. Maybe that doesn't merit an "Audio Documentary," but it's pretty inspiring, and makes for good listening, too. © 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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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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Reggae - Released September 26, 1997 | Warner Records

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Country - Released September 25, 2007 | New West Records

New York City has long been more than America's biggest and most fabled city -- it's a place that symbolizes fresh starts and new opportunities, and there are scores of songs and stories about folks pulling up roots and heading to the Big Apple in search of a better and more exciting life. Steve Earle wrote one such song on his 1997 album El Corazón, "NYC," in which a nervy kid from Tennessee hitchhikes to Manhattan because "there must be something happening, it's just too big a town," and a decade later Earle followed him, moving to New York to escape Red State malaise. Washington Square Serenade, Earle's 12th studio album and first in three years, deals in part with the sights and sounds of his new hometown, from the red-tailed hawk that lives in Central Park ("Down Here Below") to the multilingual chatter of the streets ("City of Immigrants"), while also taking a look back at the home he left behind on tunes like "Oxycontin Blues," "Red Is the Color," and "Jericho Road." While there's a strength in the familiar textures of the songs where Earle remembers Tennessee, there's a welcome sense of rejuvenation in the album's first half as he shares the details of his adventures in New York (which also includes a new bride, Allison Moorer, who lends lovely backing vocals to these sessions and is the presumable inspiration for "Sparkle and Shine" and "Days Aren't Long Enough"), and the expressionistic imagery of "Down Here Below" and "Satellite Radio" works beautifully in this context. After producing his last few album himself, Earle turned those chores over to Dust Brother John King for Washington Square Serenade, and King brings a welcome collision of the traditional and the contemporary to the music, facing scratchy drum loops against mandolins and dobros while letting a folky simplicity carry the day when it best suits the song, and the sound is crisp and forceful throughout. Washington Square Serenade ultimately sounds a bit less focused than its immediate predecessors, the politically minded Jerusalem and The Revolution Starts...Now (despite the presence of "Red Is the Color" and "Steve's Hammer"), but it also finds Earle trying out some new tricks both as a performer and a songwriter, and it's exciting and encouraging to hear him exploring fresh turf after two decades of record-making, and there's lots of fine music to be had on this set. © Mark Deming /TiVo
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Country - Released April 26, 2011 | New West Records

According to Steve Earle's liner notes for I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive, these 11 songs are all "about mortality in one way or another." Certainly the title -- after a song by Hank Williams (also the title of Earle's new novel) -- reflects this, but these songs bear that out in spades. Two of them, "God Is God" and "I Am a Wanderer," were written for Joan Baez and appeared on her Day After Tomorrow album. Earle's versions are less stylized, more worldweary, ragged, and poignant. The former is a sobering anthem which states plainly that human beings -- beginning with the individual -- are not the center of the universe; and strikes at the heart of the conservative notion of "American exceptionalism: "I believe in God, and God ain't us." The latter track is a plaintive country song whose protagonists are day laborers, the homeless, death row inmates, and society's castoffs. The shuffling rockabilly in "Waitin' on the Sky," with producer T-Bone Burnett's and Jackson Smith's (Patti's son) layered electric guitars, Jay Bellerose's taut snare, and Sara Watkins' fiddle, highlight the genuine irony in Earle's words. The hillbilly blues inform "Hey Little Emperor," and the lyrics disguise in pointed humor a deeper anger. "Molly-O" is an old-school murder ballad that offers evidence of a larger darkness than the crime. "The Gulf of Mexico" begins with Earle singing a cappella and becomes an uptempo, lonesome Celtic ballad texturally adorned by Greg Leisz's pedal steel. A song of workers and travelers who quest for basic sustenance, it describes the cost of doing so. Allison Moorer sings with Earle on the bluesy, broken love song "Heaven or Hell"; its martial drumbeat outlines the deathly seriousness in the narrative. "Meet Me in the Alleyway" is a an electric, streetwise, cut-time shuffle à la Tom Waits, with spooky guitar interplay between Smith and Burnett. The folk song "Lonely Are the Free" could have been the album's subtitle as mortality haunts its every phrase. The set closes with "This City," written for and performed in the HBO series Treme; it's just as powerful without cinematic images, thanks to the lyric and Allen Toussaint's forlorn, soulful horn arrangement. I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive's lone downer is Burnett's unnecessarily heavy-handed production. That said, Earle's vocals front and center in a brilliant song cycle transcend it. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Country - Released March 10, 2017 | New West Records

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Country - Released September 29, 2020 | New West Records

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Country - Released April 29, 2008 | New West Records

Steve Earle first appeared on the long-running roots-music television showcase Austin City Limits in 1986, as his debut album Guitar Town was riding the charts. He returned to their stage in 2000, and in many respects it seems like a lot more than 15 years separates the two performances; New West Records released the 1986 appearance on CD as DVD in 2004 in their Live from Austin, TX series, while the 2000 set has been given its own release in 2008. The passage of time is certainly apparent in Earle's voice, and it's not until the third track, "Another Town," that his vocals sound like they've truly warmed up, but it's the material and the musical approach that really tell the story on this disc. Only three of the 15 tracks on Live from Austin, TX date back to Earle's first three albums before his drug habit took him out of circulation, and in this performance, Earle isn't afraid to tackle some unapologetically difficult material, such as "The Unrepentant" and "Taneytown," and even the lighter numbers, such as "Hard-Core Troubadour" and "More Than I Can Do" cut deeper emotionally than the guy who sang "Guitar Town" was willing to go in 1986. And having realized that the Nashville establishment was pretty much done with him, for this set Earle pairs himself with a rough and ready rock & roll band, featuring Eric "Roscoe" Ambel on guitar, Kelly Looney on bass and Will Rigby on drums. They lay down plenty of fire on "Someday," "Copperhead Road," and "The Devil's Right Hand" that serves the songs well, while offering a lighter but resonant touch on "Telephone Road" and "Steve's Last Ramble." While the mix on this disc doesn't always flatter the guitars, the performance is lean and insistent, and the long introduction to "Christmas in Washington" makes clear that in the 21st century, Earle isn't afraid to say or sing what's in his heart and on his mind, and it's good that two of the man's many musical facets are represented in this series. © Mark Deming /TiVo
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Country - Released April 22, 2020 | New West Records

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Country - Released June 12, 2020 | New West Records

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Country - Released March 25, 2020 | New West Records

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Country - Released May 5, 2020 | New West Records

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Country - Released March 10, 2017 | New West Records

Steve Earle wasn't yet one of the most respected, intelligent, and controversial voices in Nashville when he stepped on-stage for a taping of the long-running public television series Austin City Limits in the fall of 1986 -- back then, he was a promising newcomer who was touring behind his well-received debut album, Guitar Town, and was recording the follow-up in fits and starts when he had downtime from the road. Live from Austin TX, part of a series of CD and DVD releases from the rich Austin City Limits archive, captures Earle when his confidence and stage smarts were not quite what they would be later on, and though there are more than a few great songs in this set, many of the tunes that would become cornerstones of his later live show (especially the mature work from his post-"vacation in the ghetto" period) haven't been written yet, and frankly this edition of the Dukes wasn't the strongest he would ever have. But Earle's energy and enthusiasm is well in evidence on this set, his voice is in solid shape, and the performance builds up a solid head of steam as it chugs through a solid 17-song set. Live from Austin TX is hardly the definitive Steve Earle live album, but it's a fine snapshot of a major artist as he was first getting accustomed to the spotlight, and the talent, swagger, and conscience that would mark his best known work are all in evidence here, even if they haven't yet reached sharp focus. © Mark Deming /TiVo
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Country - Released January 1, 2015 | Fantasy Records

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Country - Released February 27, 2020 | New West Records

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Country - Released February 11, 2021 | Trond Nilsen

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Country - Released February 28, 2020 | Landet recordings

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Steve Earle in the magazine
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