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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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GUY

Country - Released March 29, 2019 | New West Records

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While he found his fame in Nashville, Steve Earle was born in Texas, and he cut his teeth as a songwriter in the '70s while hovering on the outskirts of the Lone Star State's circle of great tunesmiths. The literate but unpretentious approach of the Texas songwriting community clearly suited Earle, and he's never been shy about acknowledging his influences from his early days. In 2009, Earle released the album Townes, in which he paid homage to his good friend and mentor Townes van Zandt, recording 15 of his best songs. Ten years later, Earle has offered a follow-up in the form of 2019's Guy, a set of 16 songs from the songbook of his late friend Guy Clark. While Townes was primarily a solo effort, Guy was cut with Earle's band the Dukes, and the difference speaks to the temperment of the two albums. Van Zandt's songs were often powerfully introspective, and he was often given to a dark night of the soul. Clark, on the other hand, was no less pithy but considerably warmer, and there's a playful humanity in his songs that Van Zandt's usually lacked, as great as they were. This also explains why Townes is ultimately a more satisfying album than Guy -- while Earle can be powerfully witty when he wants to be, he's traditionally drawn to darkness more than light, and while it's clear he loves songs like "L.A. Freeway," "Rita Ballou," and "Heartbroke," the easygoing amiability and small-town wisdom of Clark's lyrics feel a bit off coming from Earle's increasingly craggy rasp. And though the grainy tone of Earle's voice works on the rocked-up cover of "Out in the Parking Lot" and the twangy two-step of "Texas 1947," and his phrasing is as canny as ever, it doesn't work as well on more thoughtful numbers like "Desperados Waiting for a Train" and "The Randall Knife." (This album recycles a version of "The Last Gunfighter Ballad" from a 2001 Guy Clark tribute album, and its presence points to the considerable wear on Earle's voice in the 18 years that separate it from the rest of the album.) There's never a moment where Steve Earle sounds anything less than fully committed on Guy, and this was clearly a labor of love, particularly on the closing number "Old Friends," where Emmylou Harris, Jerry Jeff Walker, Rodney Crowell, and Terry Allen join in. But the execution isn't quite as strong as Earle's good intentions on Guy, though if he wanted to either remind old fans on the greatness of Clark's songs or convince new ones to explore his body of work, he makes his case will eloquence and affection. © Mark Deming /TiVo
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Rock - Released February 19, 2015 | New West Records

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"Hell, everybody's sick of all my f---ing happy songs anyway," Steve Earle declares in the liner notes to his 2015 album Terraplane as he explains why he chose to cut a blues album. If you feel like you somehow missed Earle's Pollyanna period, you're not the only one, but if he was motivated to turn to the blues because of personal troubles -- he was going through his seventh divorce while he wrote and recorded these songs -- it sure sounds like he chose the right kind of musical therapy. Terraplane is the most relaxed and least fussed-over album Earle has made in quite some time, and frankly, he sounds like he's having a ball on these sessions; with rare exceptions, this isn't music that ponders the dark night of the soul, but semi-acoustic roadhouse boogie that rocks with a steady roll and gives Earle a chance to crow like a rooster as he ponders broken hearts, long lonesome highways, battles with the forces of destiny, and the enduring appeal of women in go-go boots. Terraplane is just introspective enough to suit the literacy of Earle's lyrical conceits (a wordiness that nearly gets away from him on the grand-scale shaggy dog tale of "The Tennessee Kid"), and he does take the opportunity to bare his soul on "Better Off Alone," but the interplay between Earle and the umpteenth edition of the Dukes (including longtime sidemen Kelly Looney on bass and Will Rigby on drums, as well as fiddler and vocalist Eleanor Whitmore and guitarist Chris Masterson) is downright playful when the tempo picks up a bit, and the good and greasy feel of "The Usual Time," "Ain't Nobody's Daddy Now," and "King of the Blues" is as satisfying as a big slab of smoked brisket. Maybe folks were tired of Earle's happy songs, but if you want to hear the man have a good time while kicking up a fuss in the studio, Terraplane is a ride well worth taking. © Mark Deming /TiVo
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Country - Released April 22, 2020 | New West Records

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Country - Released January 1, 1995 | Special Products

MCA Special Products' Fearless Heart may just be a budget-price compilation, but according to those standards, it's an excellent one. Rounding up the toughest rock-oriented material Steve Earle and his backing band the Dukes recorded for MCA, Fearless Heart is easily the hardest-hitting album in his catalog, keeping its driving momentum pumping not only through originals like "I Ain't Ever Satisfied" and "The Devil's Right Hand," but also covers like "She's About a Mover." Certainly, this isn't the place to turn to if you want to appreciate Earle's artistry, but it's nevertheless an intoxicating, rocking hard country record. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Country - Released February 8, 2019 | New West Records

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Rock - Released February 20, 2015 | New West Records

"Hell, everybody's sick of all my f---ing happy songs anyway," Steve Earle declares in the liner notes to his 2015 album Terraplane as he explains why he chose to cut a blues album. If you feel like you somehow missed Earle's Pollyanna period, you're not the only one, but if he was motivated to turn to the blues because of personal troubles -- he was going through his seventh divorce while he wrote and recorded these songs -- it sure sounds like he chose the right kind of musical therapy. Terraplane is the most relaxed and least fussed-over album Earle has made in quite some time, and frankly, he sounds like he's having a ball on these sessions; with rare exceptions, this isn't music that ponders the dark night of the soul, but semi-acoustic roadhouse boogie that rocks with a steady roll and gives Earle a chance to crow like a rooster as he ponders broken hearts, long lonesome highways, battles with the forces of destiny, and the enduring appeal of women in go-go boots. Terraplane is just introspective enough to suit the literacy of Earle's lyrical conceits (a wordiness that nearly gets away from him on the grand-scale shaggy dog tale of "The Tennessee Kid"), and he does take the opportunity to bare his soul on "Better Off Alone," but the interplay between Earle and the umpteenth edition of the Dukes (including longtime sidemen Kelly Looney on bass and Will Rigby on drums, as well as fiddler and vocalist Eleanor Whitmore and guitarist Chris Masterson) is downright playful when the tempo picks up a bit, and the good and greasy feel of "The Usual Time," "Ain't Nobody's Daddy Now," and "King of the Blues" is as satisfying as a big slab of smoked brisket. Maybe folks were tired of Earle's happy songs, but if you want to hear the man have a good time while kicking up a fuss in the studio, Terraplane is a ride well worth taking. © Mark Deming /TiVo
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Country - Released January 9, 2019 | New West Records

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Country - Released February 27, 2020 | New West Records

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Country - Released March 1, 2019 | New West Records

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Country - Released May 5, 2020 | New West Records

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Pop - Released January 1, 1990 | Geffen*

"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 March 25, 2020 | New West Records

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Country - Released March 8, 2019 | New West Records

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Rock - Released February 20, 2015 | New West Records

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Rock - Released February 17, 2015 | New West Records