Friday, June 7, 2013

#EDAS Album Review: Steve Earle, The Low Highway

by Justin (@justasstrazdin)

Label: New West - April 16, 2013
Artist-Fair Shopping: Nothing Online, Hit a Record Shop

Style: Cool Uncle Americana, Like Father like Son, You Could Learn Something from This Guy

Audience: Hipsters Chewing Tobacco, Old People Who Still Go to Bars for Live Music, Bearded Thirty-somethings Who Complain at Every Show, Fans of Bubbles on HBO's The Wire

There's plenty of reason to believe that Steve Earle and son Justin Townes Earle help each other sell records by individually being good at the same thing. Justin's profile rose because he releases quality, hipster-friendly Americana. Steve Earle seems settled into his large, gray beard, that I suspect now controls his Americana-leaning country rock, which hasn't slowed down since his return from the depths of self-destruction in the mid 90's, with only a few creative dips along the way. That is impressive.

It's good that Steve Earle had not wandered down the old man rock road and mired his excellent writing with a tired production from some old Nashville cats wanting nothing more than to get the fuck out of the business, as soon as they pay off their boat. Instead, the Dukes and Duchesses sound right, enough that the twenty-something couple swaying together at Pickathon (well, not this year)--with their PBR's knocking together, her breezy cotton summer dress, and his tailored sustainable berry farmer getup--can enjoy it and forget about The Avett Brothers for a minute.

The album opens strong with "The Low Highway," a slow-moving steel guitar guided number that starts strong, and regains momentum near the middle of the album with "Love's Gonna Blow My Way," an excellent New Orleans style fiddle tune--written along with "After Mardi Gras" for HBO's Treme, both by Earle and co-star Lucia Micarelli--with fast dealt, simple lyrics that are strong on its hook. It reminds me of Justin Townes Earle's addictive opening track, "Hard Livin'," from his debut full-length, The Good Life. "Pocket Full of Rain" plays like classy 70's New York piano pop rock, which is fun considering Earle made NYC his home in 2007 (possibly 2006, I found no firm date).

There are a few low points on this record, which is incredible considering he is far along the second wind of a career he revived fifteen years ago, after heroin problems and jail time. "Calico County" sounds lazy, even if it does play to Steve Earle's strengths. I'm usually all for rambling meth rock, but not with so many good cuts on the album. "Invisible" had a similar problem, where the vocal harmony in the chorus is inconsistent with the rest of the material. I figure they are trying to fool a young radio audience by running it as a lead single, but if not, I'm confused. It also sounds like "Down Here Below" on Washington Square Serenade, minus the goofy banjo bridge to fade out. "21st Century Blues" sounds like a late-period Springsteen B-side. Whatever. But everything else makes up for it, given where his career could have ended considering his age and gritty past. Let's see you do better.

Verdict: Excellent Reason to Pound a Six Ringer on a Porch While Slapping Mosquitoes

Steve Earle - The Low Highway

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